Thursday, April 7, 2011

Children's/YA Fantasy: Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

Impoverished by their father's death, Diribani and Tana are two step-sisters who are suddenly forced into lives filled with chores, hardship, and hunger. That is, at least, until Diribani meets a goddess at the well and receives the gift to speak gems and flowers. Hoping that her other daughter will also receive the gift, the girls' mother sends Tana to the well. Tana's gift, however, is to speak frogs and snakes. The girls' new abilities cause an uproar in their hometown. Diribani is rescued from a mob by Prince Zahid, who arranges to bring her to the capital city in order to look after the precious stones her gift gives her. Tana, however, is stuck at home, exiled to the well by the "whitecoat" governor of a religion that, unlike the girls', views snakes as abhorrences. How will the sisters manage in their new lives, and what purpose does the goddess have in store for them?

The best part about this book is that it's a retelling of the fairy tale "The Fairies" by Charles Perrault. It's always interesting to see how contemporary authors will interpret and reconstruct classic tales, and Toads and Diamonds is no exception to this (to readers familiar with Perrault's story: the character of the second daughter provides an interesting contrast with the original in that she is kind, not rude). The premise of the book is interesting, as is most of its plot. By the end, however, I was getting bored with the story and was ready for it to end. It seemed to just keep going and going, and it got dragged out for many months (another of my critiques is that the passage of time is not explained very well; generally the reader only knows how much time has passed because of a "[name of month] Month passed..." mention in the middle of a paragraph). Also, at times the story seemed disconnected. It seemed like there were many discoveries and self-realizations the characters made that should have been built up to, but the author failed to actually write in the little details that built up to them. So basically, Toads and Diamonds is a good one-time read for fans of fantasy and retellings who will appreciate its storyline, but not for anyone who requires impeccable writing or really exciting plots. It has the makings of a great story, but the author doesn't quite manage to bring it through.
My copy of Toads and Diamonds was received through GoodReads' First Look program. It was published in March 2010.

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