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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Review: The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors

The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors
Amazon | Goodreads
Retelling: The Ugly Duckling, 416 pages
Expected publication: August 21st 2012 by Walker & Company
Emmeline Thistle has always had a mysterious bond with cows, beginning on the night of her birth, when the local bovines saved the infant cast aside to die in the forest. But Emmeline was unaware that this bond has also given her a magical ability to transform milk into chocolate, a very valuable gift in a kingdom where chocolate is more rare and more precious than gold or jewels. Then one day Owen Oak, a dairyman’s son, teaches Emmeline to churn milk into butter—and instead she creates a delicious chocolate confection that immediately makes her a target for every greedy, power-hungry person in the kingdom of Anglund. Only Owen loves Emmeline for who she truly is, not her magical skill. But is his love enough to save her from the danger all around her?

When I covered this for Fairy Tale Fortnight, I only did a silly little review-teaser that consisted of my weird, random notes on the book, since publication was still quite a ways off. But now publication is right around the corner, so it's time for me to actually give you an idea of whether you'll like this quirky little book. First off, I have to mention it's a retelling of The Ugly Ducking, so points for that. And it's certainly...non-traditional, and requires quite a bit of WSOD. But if you're willing to go with the weirdness, the story is actually quite charming.

I think the characters are what make it so easy to connect to this story. You like them, so you go with it. Emmeline is a fantastic ugly duckling heroine; she's plucky and stalwart and even though she continually finds herself at a disadvantage, she fights to make things right and to keep her spirits up. She's very loyal and smart, and I couldn't help but like her. And as silly as the whole "she has a connection to cows" thing sounds, I actually loved that. It was so unexpected and quirky, but actually perfectly suited to fairy tales (I mean, how many tales have MCs who can talk to some kind of animal? Lots and lots, they've just never been cows, which makes it seem silly at first, but actually ends up being warm and sweet.) Owen Oak, the man from the "good" side of the kingdom, who is set up as Emmeline's love (very quickly, but not wholly unrealistically), made me a bit leery in the beginning, but it wasn't long before I was rooting for him just as I did for Emmeline.

And - unexpectedly - I liked the treatment of the villains. I like villains who are either somewhat rootforable (you can understand their motivations, or they show doubts, or they grow - anything that makes them dynamic), but with fairy tales you don't often get dynamic villains. Instead, you tend to get the mustache-twirling blackguards that you know will be defeated, because that is their purpose. And the way a couple of people were set up in this book, I figured that's what would be the case here. But eventually new sides of these characters are revealed that makes them a bit more understandable, and at least lest detestable, if not rootforable. (Able. I just wanted to say it again.) Though I guess it turns out they were actually only pre-villains, because the main Big Bad - she's not so dimensional...

I think the world is what requires the biggest suspension of disbelief. The magic of churning milk (plain milk) into chocolate, well...that requires you to ignore logic and real-world facts, pretend there's not a cocoa tree in this world (or even necessary), etc. Though the idea that chocolate is the most prized thing in the kingdom isn't hard to believe. I have a feeling that most people who read fairy tales aren't going to be too put off by this, but I'll admit that, as much of a fairy tale lover as I am, I did struggle with this - it kept threatening to break me out of my suspension, and that's not a good thing. It never did, but it threatened, so those less disposed to be forgiving of fairy tales will probably be put off by some of the shaky logic of the world.  That said, I think the other aspects of the world-building make up for it. I love the political aspects, and the forced segregation of society to the point that Emmeline didn't even realize there was more to the world, or people unlike her. The world of the "dirt-scratchers" was a really good contrast to the rest of the country (which is loosely England-like), and I really liked that there were bigger issues at play than just Emmeline's story.

All said, I think those who are willing to go with it will find a really enjoyable story in The Sweetest Spell. Unfortunately, I worry that the really bizarre cover synopsis will keep a lot of people who would enjoy it, from even picking it up to begin with.


  1. I'm definitely intrigued by this one - fairy tale retelling + chocolate is a key component? I mean, really, what could go wrong? :oD

  2. I'm glad that you liked this one fairly well. I have it on my Netgalley TBR and it seems interesting, but I'm glad for a bit of warning that it will require some suspensions of disbelief. Great review!

  3. That is a really strange synopsis. I hadn't even read it before reading your review. I think this sounds like a fun read though and I want to give it a try. Thanks so much for the great review.

  4. Rivka and Scarlet - It's a very quick read, and definitely charming. =)

    Amber - Thanks!

    Delaney - Hope you're able to get a copy soon, then. =D

  5. I like how this book really sounds like a fairy tale - a bond with cows, turning milk into chocolate! It reminds me of spinning straw into gold like in Rumpelstiltskin.

    Also, I remember a fairy tale from childhood where a girl had a cow, and she could pull things out of the cow's ear. Good stuff.

  6. Ehm. I don't know. It sounds interesting in a peculiar sort of way. I might try it, just not now. I'm trying to NOT buy any more books until the end of the year.

  7. You've convinced me to try this one. I was put off by the ugly cover (I think it's her terrible makeup that did it), which totally made me think this was a self-pub. O_O

  8. I've been hearing about this one quite a bit lately. I think I would be like you and would have struggled with the whole milk into chocolate thing. Love the honest review! And learning the shorthand for WSOD, awesome! :P

    -Britney @ I Eat Words

  9. Hi Misty!

    I've send you an e-mail with the subject ''Jane Austen & me'' I really hope that you'll read, it's about my first experience with Jane Austen's books!



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