Published: May 1st 2013 by Random House AU
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Genres: Fairytale Retelling
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A deserted mansion. Empty picture frames. A perfect red rose in a snowy garden. There is rich and powerful magic here, and a mystery to unravel ...
When Natasha is forced to shelter from a blizzard, she is lucky to see a mansion looming out of the snow. Inside, it is beautiful - except, instead of paintings, there are empty frames on every wall. In the snowy garden, she finds one perfect red rose in bloom. Dreamily, she reaches out a hand ...
Only to have the terrifying master of the house appear, and demand vengeance on her for taking his rose.
So begins an extraordinary adventure that will see Natasha plunged deep into the heart of a mystery, as she realises she has stumbled upon a powerful sorcerer's spell of revenge.
But even if she can break the spell, the Beast she has come to love will be snatched from her. Natasha will have a long journey ahead before there can be a happy ending.
A surprisingly good read, especially because when I started it, Scarlet in the Snow was in danger of being catalogued as ‘just another Beauty and the Beast retelling’. But this story, which intertwines two Russian Fairytales (The Scarlet Flower and Fenist the Falcon), is charming, lyrical and beautiful.
Set in an alternate-world Prague, the novel follows Natasha, who lives in the countryside with her two sisters and mother. The death of her father means the family has had to adjust to a less glamorous lifestyle, and although the change chafes on her sisters, dreamer Natasha is happier. A trip to a neighboring town ends in Natasha getting stuck in a sudden snow-storm, and having to seek shelter in a mansion.
I absolutely love the setting of the novel and I think the world-building is commendable. It’s Europe, but not as we know it, and I liked the sense of history and culture imbued into the pages. I also enjoyed the integration of mythology into the story, the mystical elements that seep in through the edges of the story, and of course, the magical Luel and Old Bony. The story-telling matches the ethereal setting well. I enjoyed Natasha’s voice – she’s believable and her commentary is sharp, witty, but tempered with whimsy. It shouldn’t have surprised me: Natasha is a talented storyteller and it makes sense that she tells her own story with the same finesse as those she invents.
The whole adventure in the mansion is typical and, honestly, a little lacking. I didn’t think it was adding anything new to the whole Beauty and the Beast thing. But I liked the magic mirror, the slow friendship that Natasha developed with Ivan, and even the way she began trusting the housekeeper Luel. Where the story really gets going is after the Disney ending of the tale: there’s so much more to come after the Beast regains his usual form.
Natasha has to go through a lot in this book, and my favourite aspect of Scarlet in the Snow is how unclichéd her research into Ivan is. Usually protagonists just Google and magically find what they’re looking for, find a convenient book or newspaper article that tells them everything, or speak to someone who knows everything and helpfully soliloquies it. However, Natasha tries all of these avenues and they refreshingly (and realistically) only provide glimpses of the truth, and she spends the greater part of the novel trying to connect the dots.
One of the things that disappointed me about the book is the romance – it’s too instant and all-consuming and I really don’t buy that Natasha would have fallen in love with Ivan so quickly. I was happy with their friendship, but then Natasha suddenly realises she’s in love with him and I just had to roll my eyes! She does go through a lot for him though, so perhaps the focus of this retelling isn’t the whirlwind romance that Beauty and the Beast had, but the utter devotion they had towards one another.
All in all, Scarlet in the Snow surprised me, and I think it’s a sophisticated retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I’m eager to read more stories by Sophie Masson, especially her retelling of Cinderella, Moonlight and Ashes, which is set in the same alternate world as this book!