A review of Sarah Pinborough's Charm

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Sarah Pinborough's Charm was published by Titan Books in April 2015. (This book was originally published in 2013.)

Information about Sarah Pinborough:

Sarah Pinborough is a critically acclaimed horror, thriller and YA author. In the UK she is published by both Gollancz and Jo Fletcher Books at Quercus and by Ace, Penguin and Titan in the US. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies and she has a horror film Cracked currently in development and another original screenplay under option. She has recently branched out into television writing and has written for New Tricks on the BBC and has an original series in development with World Productions and ITV Global.

Sarah was the 2009 winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, and has three times been short-listed for Best Novel. She has also been short-listed for a World Fantasy Award. Her novella, The Language of Dying was short-listed for the Shirley Jackson Award and won the 2010 British Fantasy Award for Best Novella.

Click here to visit the author's official website.

Information about Charm:

The classic Cinderella story is given a sexy contemporary makeover in this wicked fairy tale featuring all the heroes and villains that we know and love: the handsome prince, the fairy godmother, the wretched sisters, and the beautiful girl.


Sarah Pinborough's Charm is a charmingly dark and beautifully written companion novel to the amazing retelling of Snow White, Poison. The Titan Books edition of Poison was a very pleasant surprise for me and so was Charm, because it's one of the best fairy tale retellings ever written for adults. Charm is my kind of a dark and beautifully told fairy tale retelling, because it contains many dark, brutal and twisted elements that appeal to my imagination.

As a big fan of the darker and weirder side of speculative fiction I was very impressed by Sarah Pinborough's approach to the Cinderella fairy tale. Her version is coated with irresistible darkness and potent raw power that is seldom found in fairy tale retellings. It's a tender yet brutal retelling that will appeal to many readers.

It's great that Sarah Pinborough has managed to add something new and fresh to the Cinderella fairy tale. She clearly seems to love and respect old fairy tales, because she has modernized this fairy tale in a fantastic way. She understands that when you write a fairy tale retelling, you must have enough vision and boldness to make it different from the original story, but not too different to alienate readers who are familiar with the original story.

I think it's good to mention that this fairy tale retelling is not suitable for children. Because there's sex and brutality in this story, it can only be recommended for adults.

Here's information about the story:

It's winter and many children have gone missing. Nobody knows what has happened to them and people are worried about them... Cinderella has a step-mother, Esme, and two step-sisters, Rose and Ivy. Ivy is married to the Viscount, but Rose is still unmarried... Soon two Bride Balls will be held and the Prince shall choose his bride by the end of the two balls and Cinderella wants to go there, but knows that it's impossible for her to attend the Bride Balls, because Rose will go there. Suddenly Cinderella meets her fairy godmother who helps her, but good deeds come with a price...

This is a fascinating beginning to a well told tale about Cinderella that's full of surprises.

All the well-known elements (step-mother, step-sisters, fairy godmother, the shoe etc) of the original fairy tale are present in this retelling. The author writes well about these elements and adds her own kind of magic to the story by spicing it with sex and brutality. These adult elements add a fascinating coating of roughness to this retelling and make it stand out among other retellings.

It's wonderful how much depth Sarah Pinborough has added to the characters. The characterization is excellent and works well, because the characters feel realistic and believable. This is something that is quite rare in fairy tale retellings. (In my opinion, Sarah Pinborough is one of the few authors who are capable of writing realistically about fairy tale characters and their lives.)

Cinderella is a realistic character, because she has her own dreams, hopes and needs. She fantasizes of a different kind of life, because she does housekeeping at home and is mostly ignored by her family. The author writes fluently about Cinderella's dreams and wishes, and she also pays attention to what happens when some of them are shattered. The author also writes well about Cinderella's beauty, because she's a pretty girl. She's much prettier than her step-sisters (her step-sisters are plain when compared to her).

Cinderella's step-mother is an interesting character, because she has never understood money. She was born in wealth and also married in wealth, but when she met Cinderella's father and ran away with him, she gradually had to learn the cost of things. She has her own dreams and hopes for her daughters and wishes to be part of the royal life in the castle.

Buttons is a wonderful minor character, because he's a thief, but also an errand boy at the castle. He's Cinderella's friend and he brings her things. He's a bit like Robin Hood, because he steals from the rich and gives to the poor.

Cinderella's father is also an intriguing character. The author reveals interesting things about his marriage to Cinderella's mother and his new marriage to Esme. Cinderella learns from his father that life is not as simple as she thought it would be. She also learns a few hidden truths about her own mother that shock her.

What happens between Cinderella and Rose is handled in a perfect way. I was positively surprised when I found out that the author had been able to create a complex relationship between them and wasn't afraid to explore it.

One of the most fascinating things about Charm is that Cinderella is described as a young woman who has sexual needs and likes to be touched in a sexual way. She doesn't think there's anything bad in touching, because she considers it to be natural. She also has sexual fantasies about the Prince.

It was great that the author wrote boldly about how Cinderella felt about true love and her attraction towards the Prince. She had a few lessons to learn, because achieving what you wished for appeared to be more difficult than she thought, because reality differed quite a lot from her dreams and hopes. It was interesting to read about what Cinderella felt when she found out that her life would probably not be what she expected it to be. She learns the hard way that you have to be careful what you wish for, because it may come true.

It's interesting that the author has added elements from other fairy tales to this short novel. It was intriguing for me to read about the references to Snow White and Hansel and Gretel, because they were part of the story (it's nice how fluently characters from other fairy tales appear in this story).

Both Poison and Charm can be read as standalone short novels, but I recommend reading both of them, because that way you'll be able to see how they're connected to each other. There's an interesting and important connection between Poison and Charm, but I'm not going to reveal what it is, because that wouldn't fair to readers.

The ending of Charm is brilliant in every way. I enjoyed it very much, because it was something unexpected. It's great that the author has managed to add unpredictability to the story, because it makes the story entertaining. I think that readers will be pleasantly surprised by the ending.

If you're a fan of dark fairy tales, dark fantasy or horror stories, please do yourself a big favour and read this novel. This short novel will please all fans of dark stories and fairy tales, because it's dark in a good way. The author has created a perfect atmosphere with just the right amount of darkness to make things intriguing for readers. This retelling has the same kind of seducing darkness in it as the classic fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.

Because Sarah Pinborough gives a charmingly dark and sexy makeover to the Cinderella fairy tale, it's possible to say that after you finish reading this short novel, you'll never think about Cinderella the same way again. This story is wonderfully different from the original story and it will appeal to fans of the original story.

Just like the Titan Books edition of Poison, this Titan Books edition of Charm is truly a work of art. The cover illustrations are beautiful and the harcover edition looks stunningly gorgeous. This edition will please all fans of beautifully made books.

By the way, if you find yourself enjoying Charm and want to read more similar kind of stories, please take a look at its companion short novels, Poison and Beauty.

If you're looking for something dark and thrilling to read, please read Sarah Pinborough's Charm, because it offers you style, originality and good prose in a beautiful package. If you've ever read any fairy tales and have enjoyed reading them, you should immediately read this retelling of Cinderella, because you won't regret it. It's an excellent fairy tale for adults who want the best from their fantasy stories.

Highly recommended!