Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Toads and Diamonds

Toads and DiamondsToads and DiamondsHeather Tomlinson

It's a tale that's not told very often (although Gail Carson Levine did it in The Fairy's Mistake.) Two sisters meet a fairy by a well. The good sister is rewarded so that every time she speaks, jewels fall from her lips. The bad sister is punished so that every time she speaks, snakes and lizards fall from hers.

Tomlinson's version is set in a mythical kingdom with many parallels to India during the Mughal era. In this version, both sisters are good (and how refreshing is it to get a fairy tale with a step-mother and step-sister who are good and nice and the entire family is extremely close despite their lack of shared blood?) In Tomlinson's version, both sisters find their abilities to be both curses and blessings.

Diribani's deepest desire was for beauty, and she started speaking diamonds and flowers. A prince took her back to his castle, collecting her jewels and sending them back home, keeping some for the royal treasury. He did it because Diribani kept starting a riot as people scrambled to pick up her jewels, while others tried to kill her for being a witch.

But she thought the goddess gave her the gift so she could use her wealth to help the poor, to improve life for her people. Now the bulk of it is going to the corrupt governor of her home province, probably to buy bigger guns.

Tana loves her sister, but has always be jealous or her effortless beauty and grace and goodness. Her deepest desire was to protect her family, but got snakes and lizards. Her neighbors like the the influx of good ratters, but her true curse becomes apparent when she tries to answer a marriage proposal and a cobra falls between them. The ruling class is afraid of snakes. Tana is driven away from town and on the run for her life when she sees just how corrupt her government really is, and how her curse can save her people.

So much wonderfulness. I loved the tensions between the foreign ruling class and the bulk of the people, and the religious issues. I liked how not all of the Believers were bad, not all of the Followers of the 12 were good. Tomlinson builds a world without too much explanation, it never gets in the way of the story.

Tomlinson doesn't change too much of the story (the main exception is that she makes the both sisters, and the mother, good people and realizes that in more complex story, there are greater repercussions to spewing jewels every time you talk.) But she still manages to make the story fully her own.

Love love love love love. A wonderful example of what a fairy-tale telling can, and should be.

Book Provided by... my local library

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