Rummanah Aasi
 So far for my Southeast Asian Reading Challenge I have been reading books that are targeted to an adult audience. I thought I would try reading some books for children/middle grade and YA books. I came across Toads and Diamonds, a fairy tale retelling set in pre-colonial, fictional India and thought it looked interesting. I've read good reviews on the book so I decided to give it a shot.

Description (from inside panel): Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family's scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks.
It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely stepsister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward.
  Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. Diribani’s newfound wealth brings her a prince—and an attempt on her life. Tana is chased out of the village because the province's governor fears snakes, yet thousands are dying of a plague spread by rats. As the sisters' fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love . . . or death?

Review: Set in the fictional Indian land of Hundred Kingdom, Toads and Diamonds is a retelling of Perrault's fairy tale "The Fairies". I haven't read the original fairy tale so book's plot was new and welcoming to me.
 Stepsisters Diribani and Tana are struggling to keep their household together after their father's murder. He was a jewel merchant and Tana hopes to follow in his footsteps, but these dreams are swept out of reach when both girls make separate trips to get water from the local well. Each sister meets a
snake goddess, Naghali, who bestows upon them a unique gift before asking them what their heart desires. Diribani is gifted with gems and flowers that drop from her lips when she speaks. Tana returns with an even stranger gift of snakes, frogs, and toads. The awe over Diribani's gift from people both humble and expected from the upper class who take note, but it's refreshing to see the matter-of-fact welcome that Tana's snakes receive from the townspeople who are trying to save their crops and vermin infested homes.
  Tomlinson's memorable novel employs magic realism to explore a universal truth: an individual's gifts and talents are not always as they might seem. I liked how Tomlinson stays away from the trite and overused devices of evil step sisters pitted against one another where one is clearly evil and the other virtuous. Though they may be stepsisters by relation, Diribani and Tana don't act like it. They genuinely care for one another. Each chapter is told from their alternating perspectives so we can see how they individually deal with their "gift". Dirbani and Tana's voices and personalities are distinct. The author's
lavish details starkly contrast the two girls' lives and personalities while emphasizing their strength, purpose, and enduring love for each other, despite their predicaments. I was able to connect more with Tana who is crafty and skillful than Dirbani who came across as too much of a dreamer. 
  I thought the book's description is a bit misleading. I expected the romance element would play a bigger part in the story, but it doesn't. There are touches of it, but they remain in the background and aren't developed which was disappointing. Tomlinson she creates a vivid setting of her fictionalized India, drawing references from both village histories as well as the Mughal Empire. I took me a while to get use to her world, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but the complexities of the cultural backstory and slow pace will most likely pose a challenge to readers. I still enjoyed it and will recommend it to readers who would like multicultural fiction and a different spin on your average fairy tale.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Beast by Donna Jo Napoli, Ash by Melinda Lo
5 Responses
  1. Sounds very interesting. I like the theme of showing that one's talents might not be what they seem. And that it avoids the evil stepsister stereotype. It's nice when authors think outside the box.

  2. I really enjoyed this one too, but this is "my kind of book." I agree this doesn't really have wide appeal, and it hasn't moved much in the library, but there are those who will get much from the story.

    Excellent review!

  3. Oh I just might have to add this one to the tbr. Oh I love cultural spins on fae mythology! Just for that alone I want to read it. Too bad the romance isn't there, but as long as I know that, I don't think I'll be disappointed!

  4. I was so shocked by this story because I wasn't familiar with the Fairy Tale from which it was derived. I kept waiting to be swept up by it and, though I liked it, no sweeping occurred. Thanks for you good review.

  5. books online Says:

    Sounds very interesting. I like the theme of the story. It's nice to read a fairytale kind of story. Thanks for sharing the post.

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