September 19, 2012 by Heidi
Title: The Sweetest Spell [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Suzanne Selfors [Website|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Published: August 21st, 2012 by Walker Childrens
Format: Hardcover; 416 pages
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley
Challenge: YA/MG Fantasy Challenge
Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher’s daughter, has escaped death twice-first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability-she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.
Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all. But Emmeline only wants one-Owen Oak, a dairyman’s son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself. But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains-no matter what the cost to Emmeline.
Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all.
When I first heard that there was a YA fairy tale retelling of The Ugly Ducking, I immediately got excited. When I read the blurb for The Sweetest Spell, I knew I had to read it. A fairy tale retelling of an oft-neglected story centering around the power of chocolate? Why, I haven’t had that sort of fun since reading The Chocolate Touch back in 3rd grade (Patrick Skene Catling’s middle grade retelling of King Midas about a kid whose touch turns everything not to gold, but to chocolate! Totally fun and recommended).
The Sweetest Spell is a fairy tale story to its core, vacillating between the utter hopelessness of depression and the bright eyed wonder of youth and happiness. It begins with Emmeline’s recounting of how she is an unwanted. Left to die of exposure after being born with a curled foot, Emmeline survived only because she was guarded by some local cows. Thereafter, cows show affection for the girl who none of her people want around. When events turn and it is discovered that Emmeline possesses the power to make chocolate, an ability that has not existed for generations, Emmeline finds herself the most sought after woman in the country.
Emmeline is a charming and likable character with the sense of humor that develops in those who are largely scorned by society but remain good at heart. Her willingness to love and resilient hope counteract the downfall of events that becomes more and more depressing until you question whether there is any power that can lift this story out of it. Emmeline shares her story with a young man, Owen Oaks, son of a dairy farmer and champion bare fist fighter who finds himself an unlikely protector.
Both our hero and heroine were easy to like and root for, and though half the story is narrated through Owen’s perspective, this is unarguably Emmeline’s tale. Through Emmeline we see the transformation of one who is cast aside as nothing into that which is most desired. I loved that while The Sweetest Spell was a rags to riches story, Emmeline did not fall victim to the sort of character changes we often see in such tales. Emmeline retains her heart, knows when to say no, and what the best riches in life truly are.
That said, there were things about The Sweetest Spell that didn’t work for me. For example, some of the story elements seemed poorly constructed. When Emmeline has at one point not eaten anything for three days after a full lifetime of eating very little, she downs a huge glass of milk and eats a bigger meal than she’s ever had all without getting sick. These sorts of impossibilities always take me out of a story. The romance is quite insta-lovey, and there are some plays at a love triangle which I never felt really bloomed into the full on thing, but were certainly neared. Also, there was that cutesy tactic where our main characters just keep missing each other and we’re supposedly left incredibly frustrated at how near they come over and over until things finally come together in their proper time. I suppose it worked on me, I was frustrated, but I was annoyed more than anything. I think as a younger reader I would have enjoyed this element, but it was just too coy for me in my jaded old age. My final complaint was that I’m just not a huge fan of the dual perspective his and hers narration that flips back and forth between the male and female leads. I feel it was necessary for this story because of how it unfolds, but initially I found it quite jarring, and actually set the book aside for several weeks as a result before coming back to finish.
Still, I was quite satisfied with how The Sweetest Spell came together in the end, and I am happy to say it was worth coming back to. It was a story with unexpected depths, charm, and managed to take the skeletal message and story of The Ugly Duckling and transform it into something wholly original. There was chocolate, romance, an evil queen, hot air balloons, lots of red heads, and a husband market (yes, I had the bachelor auction scene of Groundhog Day running through my head throughout). Quirky, and at times ridiculous, not everyone will fall under The Sweetest Spell, but those readers who do will find it very sweet indeed.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: I did like The Sweetest Spell, but it took me a couple of tries to get through it, and I had too many issues to really love it. While I will be recommending Selfors for the right reader, I cannot guarantee I will be exploring more of her work myself.
Recommended for: Fairy tale lovers who don’t mind some real depression before their HEA, younger YA readers, chocolate lovers.
Real life repercussions of reading this book: I dare you to read this book without chocolate in the house. Just try. *Stares you down with chocolate bar in hand.* I’m totally drinking chocolate milk and eating Oreos as I write this review.
Additionally, I feel it’s my duty to inform you about my love of the name Emmeline. My mage in WoW is named Emmeline, and I freaking adore this song:
Get a second opinion:
The Book Rat – “it’s certainly…non-traditional, and requires quite a bit of WSOD. But if you’re willing to go with the weirdness, the story is actually quite charming.”
Paranormal Indulgence – “The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors is a questing fantasy, a half-lighthearted half-sober story, that, while it won’t be perfect for everyone, quenched my thirst for cheer”