REVIEW: The Sisters Grimm – Menna van Praag

The Sisters Grimm

Author: Menna van Praag (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Bantam Press

Genre: Contemporary fantasy, YA

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of sisters Grimm on Earth.
You may well be one of them, though you might never know it.

This is the story of four sisters Grimm – daughters born to different mothers on the same day, each born out of bright-white wishing and black-edged desire.

They found each other at eight years-old, were separated at thirteen and now, at nearly eighteen, it is imperative that they find each other once again.

In thirty-three days they will meet their father in Everwhere. Only then will they discover who they truly are, and what they can truly do. Then they must fight to save their lives and the lives of the ones they love. Three will live, one will die.

You’ll have to read on to find out who and why . . .

I have tried very hard with this book. I’ve been reading it for weeks, and I just can’t seem to get into it. It doesn’t seem to be to do with the writing, I like the style and the voice. It’s not to do with the setting, although I was surprised to find it was a contemporary fantasy rather than a period or alternate world fantasy. I like contemporary fantasy, and I like the fact that there’s a cast of girls with a variety of personalities and powers. It’s like a levelled up version of the T*witches series I loved as a kid – sisters whose powers are at their height together, who complement each other and form a whole. But for some reason I’ve been reading this for nearly a month now and it doesn’t seem to be flowing for me. There’s definitely a chance that part of this might be to do with my general energy levels, but I also think I’m not entirely suited to the structure of the narrative.

I’ve spoken before on here about how I am not really suited to short stories, because I prefer to follow a narrative from end-to-end, and unfortunately the structure of this book seems to mirror short stories more than a traditional novel. Each of the characters – the four sisters, and Leo, plus a general overview of Everwhere – get their own narratives. The storyline jumps from person-to-person after fairly short sections, and then between different timelines as well. One of the narratives is in first person, the Everwhere narrative is in second person, and all the rest are in third person. It’s hard to settle into, and it means by halfway through the book I still didn’t feel like I fully knew the characters or plot.

I also haven’t been entirely sold on Goldie and Leo’s side plot and relationship. I get that because of their powers they’re supposed to be drawn to each other, and Leo is trying to use Goldie while resisting his own attraction to her, but the speed at which it happens – over the course of a couple of weeks – seems improbable. Coupled with the very short, choppy narrative segments, it feels like there’s barely any development of it at all before the inexplicable tension is busy being resolved. I didn’t get a chance to really feel the chemistry, and to be honest I still don’t. The six-way split means that I didn’t feel like I know any of them, and I struggled to feel invested.

I think if you’re looking for a YA urban fantasy with a strong cast of female leads, then you might enjoy this. It plays with narrative structures and timelines, and also explores a really interesting magic style. There are also some wonderful nods to the stories of the Brothers Grimm, changing them and twisting them to fit in with the new story and make them fresh and sinister in a brand new way. Theoretically I should love all this, I adore fairy tales and adaptations of them. The presence of a sinister storytelling father figure, controlling these characters like puppets, reminds me so much of Princess Tutu, one of my favourite anime series. Everything in this book should have ticked every one of my boxes – slight insta-love aside – but it just didn’t. Which perhaps go to show that structure is as important as content and narrative style in putting together a book.

There are some trigger warnings to be aware of in this book. As far as I got, there are references to child abuse, including child sexual abuse, adult sexual assault, violence, and also animal death. I’ve no doubt this develops as the book continues. Theoretically these are all themes present in the Grimm tales, but there’s something different about reading them in a slightly sanitised and detached fairy tale, and reading them in a novel which is designed to evoke emotion and goes into a little more detail.

It’s likely that I’ll come back to this book eventually, I am curious to see how it ends, and I am disappointed that I didn’t love it. But it’s taking me so long to read that I’ve stopped enjoying it now and that’s not a recipe for a happy me or particularly fair to the book. The stars just didn’t align for me and this book on this occasion.

Briefly:

  • A contemporary urban fantasy with a rich mythology based around the fairytales collected by the Brothers Grimm, a diverse cast of female characters, and high stakes.
  • It plays with time periods, POVs and narrative structure, but unfortunately this meant that I struggled to settle into the story and couldn’t connect with the characters. Structurally, it just didn’t work for me.
  • There are some definite issues in terms of child abuse and sexual assault, and I’m uncomfortable with some of the themes of incest which are sort of subtly there but it’s unclear what is meant by ‘father’ when referring to… well, their father. Is he actually their biological father, or is he just father in the sense of the creator? I expect I’d find out if I stuck with it, but it just wan’t happening.

Rating: 2/5 – on paper, this book ticks a lot of my boxes, and it isn’t a bad book. These ratings really reflect my personal experience of the book rather than being any statement on quality, and I do think that a lot of people are going to get on with it even thought I couldn’t.

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