Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: Toads and Diamonds

Initally I grabbed this book when I had only a few days of school left (but I knew I would still need something to read) and promptly requested a copy of it from my home library since I knew I wouldn't be able to finish it in two days and I was really enjoying it. As the title suggests, it's a re-write of a class fairy tale Diamonds and Toads where two sisters are each given a "gift" by an old woman they each meet at a local well. One, for her good and sweet nature, has precious stones and flowers fall from her mouth every time she speaks* and the other, reflecting her mean-spirited nature, has only snakes and toads fall from her mouth. And that's where the similarities between the original tale and this story end, everything else about the story (from the nature of the girls to the setting) is quite different.

Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson
 Very colorful cover, almost too colorful but, since colorful clothing and dowry bangles are important parts of the setting the cover works.

Summary: Diribana and Tana are stepsisters living with their widowed (step)mother who are very clever in their own ways and genuinely do like each other. But one day they both receive unique gifts from a local goddess, gifts that are both a boon and a curse to them and that will draw them both into conflict with those who just want to use or destroy these gifts.

The Good: Set in a fictionalized India, based on the Mughal period, the setting is vibrant, different, and very well thought out. There are two distinct cultures presented (one with a Hindu influence, who are all vegetarians strangely, and one that is clearly influenced by Islam), each of which feels familiar but still has a new, fantasy feeling to it. There's an interesting twist on the original fairy tale that neither of the gifts is actually a curse and that both of them have problems associated with them as well. It's a nice take on the fairy tale and manages to be both identifiable as well as adding a lot to the story.

The Bad: The ending is a bit weak and odd. A few chapters before the end it seems like everything can't possibly be resolved in just one book, Diribana and Tana's separate plots both seem like they have the potential to be even bigger and it seems like both of the girls then have the power to change a lot of things that are wrong in their province. But then they both seem to just give up those chances to do something big and the outcome of the entire story is that they seem to have learned something about themselves (really can't go into more detail without spelling out the ending). Character development is grand and rather vital to the story but it really seems like the plot had a chance to do something spectacular, thought about it, and then retreated at the last possible minute leaving a rather bland ending instead.

I enjoyed the book right up to the ending (and here I was going, wait, maybe we'll have a sequel, WITH POLITICS?!? :D ) and I still really love the setting of the story. But, since the ending does annoy me, I don't think I'll be either rereading or buying this book anytime soon, although I do recommend it to anyone who is tried of standard Western/Easter fantasy settings or to anyone who likes a retelling of fairy tales since it does do those parts excellently.  

*although, as pointed out in Dealing with Dragons, this would be a horrible gift if you sleeptalked, thankfully neither of our heroines had this particular problem.

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