Review: Poison

Poisonby Sarah Pinborough

Gollancz, out April 18

A tale as old as Time given a very modern spin…

The TV series Grimm wonders what would happen if the creatures from Grimm’s Fairy Tales were real and existed in our world. In this highly enjoyable retelling of the story of Snow White, Sarah Pinborough turns that idea on its head and considers how the fairy tales might have played out if the participants were real people, with all the emotions and needs that would therefore be factors, and had to deal with such day to day matters as going to work. Stephen Sondheim went part of the way down this route with Into the Woods but Pinborough has given the idea a very sharp shake and come up with a very different take on the old stories.

The core elements of the traditional fable are there – stepmother, beautiful daughter, magic, apple, sleep, dwarves – but it’s how Pinborough treats them that gives this story its marvellous unpredictability. It’s not for those who are prudish about sexual matters: in keeping with the rest of the book, the sex scenes are realistic (she certainly doesn’t close the bedroom door and leave it to our imagination), and have consequences.

There’s a lovely crossover effect throughout the story as it becomes clear that all the fairy-tale lands and participants exist in the same world – if this were a TV show, then Poison would have numerous guest stars – and it will be interesting to see whether we get a different perspective on the events in this story in one of the later volumes.

It’s worth noting that you don’t just get Pinborough’s well-crafted text: Gollancz have gone to town with the packaging. There are gorgeous, and deceptively simple drawings by Val and Les Edwards, and care has gone into the choice of font, which pulls you into the fantasy world from the first word.

Verdict: A fairy-tale for grown-ups that should delight and shock in equal measure. 8/10

Paul Simpson

Click here to order Poison from

Click here for our interview with Sarah Pinborough

And click here for a review of the sequel Charm


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