This was an interesting reading experience because I was not familiar with the source material for this book, the fairy tale “The White Bride and the Black Bride.” So I pulled out my trusty The Complete Fairy Tales of Brothers Grimm, Volume 1 and read it right before venturing in to this novel. (Reading the original, I can see why this story doesn’t get a ton of attention anymore. Although meant to be “metaphorical,” its depiction of the “white bride” as being good and the “black bride” as being bad comes across as somewhat racist.)
Since this story was not part of my cultural consciousness the way more common fairy tales are, I was particularly surprised when certain elements that seemed crucial in the original were disregarded in this rendition. It really ended up feeling like a bit of a mash up between “Cinderella” and “The Goose Girl,” since it played up the original’s elements of an abusive stepfamily and a case of mistaken/stolen identity.
The writing is adequate, if a bit flowery in places (no pun intended), and I was somewhat confused by the author’s choice to set it in France but to have the characters worship Greek gods. I don’t know enough French history to place this historically, although I assume at some point the Roman occupation probably came into play. I would have liked an author’s note to explain this choice, such as Donna Jo Napoli provides in Bound. With all the deaths and other horrible things that happened to Rose, the story did come across as melodramatic at times. I think that comes from the strange juxtaposition of this feeling like a “light” read even though it deals with the rather heavy subject matter of grief. And if the god I worshiped answered my prayers the way Artemis answers the prayers of Rose’s dying mother, I think I would start seeking a new religion pronto, even if it does “all turn out all right in the end.” I never felt completely certain that the destination was worth the harrowing journey in this case.
I would have liked further exploration of the case of “mistaken identity” between the King’s deceased wife and Rose — she was apparently her “twin” in looks, although they were around the same age and so she could not have been a reincarnation, and there was no indication they were actually twins separated at birth. I am glad that Rose realized the importance of the King coming to love her for who she was rather than as a balm to his grief over his late wife. I wonder if there are other retellings that focus more on this aspect of the story. If not, perhaps I will have to write one!