Snow, White by Keith Austin

(7.8/10) Definitely more Grimm than Disney.

Keith Austin’s Snow, White is a contemporary young adult fantasy that draws inspiration from classic fairy tales that are still so well loved. But it is definitely more Grimm than Disney.

John Creed's nights are haunted by dreams of a white wolf, his days by the hideous class bully. He's a loner with a stutter and his home-life - with an eccentric grandfather who wants to teach him folklore and ancient languages - is isolated and unusual. But then John makes a friend - Fyre. She's as unusual as John and has her own secrets to keep, but as the truth about John's past starts to emerge, she's the best ally he's got...

Keith Austin, an Englishman now living in Sydney, has spent a lifetime writing. He has been a journalist for more than 35 years and this comfort with words has enabled him to write a flowing narrative that is initially very strong on characterisation. He has also given the book’s lead, John, a stutter, something he himself has.

In recent times I’ve read many books aimed at young adults and must admit to having become rather jaded with it all as it seems like too many authors were telling similar stories in a similar way. It took a book like Snow, White to remind me just how good young adult fiction can be when it treats the reader as a young adult and not as an older child. And another thing in the book’s favour is that the romance found within its pages was not some insipid love triangle that took up too many pages but a realistic look at how teenagers begin to develop and experience feelings for each other.

I initially expected a re-telling, or to use the Tim Burton phrase a “re-imagining”, of the Snow White fairly tale and although this is to a small extent true this is a unique story in its own right, containing only the subtlest of allusions to the Grimm classic.

As already mentioned, Austin writes teenagers very well, both male and female. John and Fyre are very likeable, all the more so for being flawed like the rest of us. And the villains, which include the unforgettable kitten-tapper and his son are truly menacing, a little larger than life but still within the boundaries of believability.

But… and this is a big but, half way through the book changes direction, moving away from the character-driven narrative that was working so well and into the realms of all-out action, and this sudden change didn’t really work for me. What the book had done so well up until then was bring the characters to life by showing us their histories and allowing us access to their thoughts. But suddenly the story and character progression were lost as battle-mode was enabled and I’m afraid my interest in the story lessened as my warmth towards the characters dissipated. And this I found a real shame as I had enjoyed the first half so much. But what I read and enjoyed so much means I would still happily recommend Snow, White and also read any future works from Mr Austin.

If you are looking for a horror/fantasy book suitable for the young adult market, one that blows all those Twilight clones out of the water and one whose story and characters are initially very strong then Snow, White is a book you should try.

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