Poison by Sarah Pinborough

An engrossing, intriguing and fun new take on an old story.
Poison book cover

It’s Snow White, but not as you know her... Take a wicked queen, a handsome prince, a beautiful princess, and a poisoned apple... and now read the true story of Snow White, told the way it always should have been...

This is Snow White for a new generation: the dwarves are no longer simply creatures of fun, but a hard-working race whose lungs are scarred by the air in the metal mines; the young Queen rules with fear and dark magic from far off lands and is poisoned by jealousy and hatred for her step-daughter; Snow is as wild and untamed as the horses she rides in the forests...

The topic of Snow White is a hot one once again thanks to last year’s film ‘Snow White and the Huntsman 'and the television series ‘Once Upon A Time’. Sarah Pinborough’s novel is based on an old fairy tale and is very much aimed at a modern adult audience.

This is in equal measure erotic, darkly humorous, fresh and exciting. The focus is not on good versus evil; rather it puts the microscope up to our very human characteristics, wants and needs. Themes of desire, envy, manipulation, depression, loneliness and camaraderie are explored. This is a gritty, earthy treatment of the story. This is Snow White as a modern independent woman, not a doe-eyed innocent (far from it).

Pinborough injects proceedings with a knowing and wicked sense of humour. I found myself chuckling throughout, there are also some eye-popping episodes and revelations. She has taken the familiar and crafted it into something entirely new, quite a feat of creative storytelling.

I am a big fan of thrillers and action adventure, therefore probably not within the expected readership demographic for Poison. Yet I was thoroughly entertained and loved its irreverence and boldness. This is an engrossing, intriguing and fun new take on an old story.

Poison by Sarah Pinborough
Published 2013 by Gollancz
ISBN: 978 0 575 09297 6

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Poison reader reviews

from Canada


Honestly, in my mind, Poison can be summed up as simply as the original, and conventional, fairy tale (spoiler alert!): there’s a wicked-natured Queen who has married a man with a daughter she loathes simply because she is more beautiful, and basically everything she is not...which, to me, are the most ridiculous and unrealistic motivations for assassination and/or poison (this particular book was not meant for children like the original fairy tale, so why give us such a petty and condescending catalyst?). There are dwarves and a huntsman. She poisons Snow with a curse (spoiler alert: it’s an apple) and the rest of the story can be read in the Grimms version. The only surprises? Sex, attitude, and a dark prince. The ending is unsatisfying (and largely under-explored), and much to my dismay, the characters are simply more detailed versions of their original counterparts with (arguably) no creative twists to their natures/ambitions whatsoever; they seemed flat to me, and the epitome of fairy tale tropes. This retelling of Snow White seems to be a slightly darker version of the original (heavy on the “slightly”), and offers nothing to the imagination other than it being a more adult version of Snow White. All that aside, it is well written and despite everything, still enjoyable; considering the short 175 or so pages, it’s still worth a read. Granted I have not read the following books, Charm and Beauty, which may very well build off of this very simplistic and uncreative narrative. A decent book though, just don’t expect some expertly devised rendering of a clichéd tale.

from UK


Unfortunately I was less than impressed with Poison - it sounded like it should be a fun, sexy, adult fairytale but I found that it didn't live up to its promise. It didn't stray off the beaten path enough, and just wasn't witty or clever enough. I liked some of the twists, but overall I think more could have been made of it.

7/10 from 3 reviews

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