Review: The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors

17

September 19, 2012 by Heidi

The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne SelforsTitle: 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”

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17 comments »

  1. TG says:

    Ha! My initial comment was going to be how awesome the name Emmeline is, but then I scrolled down further and saw you have that covered. This sounds like it has many elements I love – fairy tales, chocolate, weirdness, the name Emmeline – so I’ll probably try it, but I’ll consider your advice and approach with caution.

    • Heidi says:

      Hehe, I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in the Emmeline love! Yes, this did end up to be a great fairy tale retelling, and it’s a quick read worth the time even if it does have flaws.

  2. Fairy tale lover–CHECK! Younger YA reader–CHECK! Chocolate lover–CHECK! Looks like I’ll be checking this one out soon. This one sounds so fun. I have a feeling I’ll have to bake up some cookies before I begin (: Wonderful review!

    • Heidi says:

      You should, Debz! I think you’d really like this one, you’re right it’s right up your alley. And yeah, you should probably have some cookies on hand. 😛

  3. I have this one checked out from the library, but I haven’t read it yet. I have to agree with you, I am generally not a fan of alternating POVs, myself. Sometimes I think it is amazing (Pushing the Limits), but most of the time there is one character that I want to read about, and when I have to switch to another POV it just annoys me, and I want to get back to the original. Wow, talk about run-on sentence.

    Thanks for the review!

    • Heidi says:

      Hehe, Pushing the Limits is one of those I have on hand but haven’t read yet. I keep looking sideways at it just not sure that all of the amazing reviews I’ve read for it can really be real. I know what you mean though! I’m usually really resistant to being thrown into that second PoV, which was pretty extreme for me in this one. I’m glad I gave Owen another chance though, it wasn’t so bad being in his head after all. 😛

  4. Jamie says:

    Wait wait wait…a fairy tale retelling of The Ugly Duckling?? HOLD THE FREAKING PHONES.

    It sounds interesting enough though the way you describe the romance and the way there are these “near misses” kind of turns me off. I will keep it on my radar though when I’m in the mood for a fairy tale retelling! I mean, because the Ugly Duckling was like my fave as a child.

    • Heidi says:

      I know, right?! The Ugly Duckling is why I had to read this book, and it’s a pretty solid and incredibly creative retelling. I like that it wasn’t too light and cutesy, which it easily could have been. The insta-love and near-miss thing were annoying, but I did feel like the rest of the story made up for them. Certainly one to consider when you’re in the Fairy Tale mood!

  5. I like fairy tale retellings, but some of the things you mentioned under your annoyances are things that also really annoy me — especially the tactic of just missing each other. Sigh.

    BUT I have read Selfors before and liked her, so I’ll read The Sweetest Spell, but later rather than sooner.

    • Heidi says:

      Mmhmm. It was that whole ‘oh look at that cart in the distance, that person’s hair looks like this guy I know but it couldn’t possibly be him’ kind of thing. If you liked Selfors before though, this is really worth giving a shot. Like I said to Jamie, I felt like the things I did like were enough to outweign those that annoyed me. Plus, it’s a super quick read.

  6. A fairy tale retelling? Involving chocolate? I am IN! I’m not sure if I have even heard of this one yet, but it does sound intriguing! I also love the name Emmeline, if I have a daughter I want to name her Emma so it’s kind of the same…

    • Heidi says:

      It is kind of the same, yay for more Emmeline love! And yes, you really might enjoy this one! The whole thing was really creative and fun. At first I kind of had to turn it sideways and squint to see The Ugly Duckling there, but then I realized that it’s a great retelling! It uses just the bare ideas of the original tale and makes something completely unique of it’s own. Really tip my hat to Suzanne Selfors for that.

  7. Wow, I don’t know what to make of this one, Heidi! On one hand it seems to be an absolutely phenomenal story with depth and something I’d enjoy, but insta-love? *cringes* I feel as if my brain has a block on any books like that these days, but I might just have to give this a try regardless. I haven’t read a fairy-tale retelling of The Ugly Duckling before, so I hope I enjoy this one! Fantastic review, dear! 😀

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Keertana! Yeah, this is one of those that I think a lot of readers could take or leave. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it, and wouldn’t call it a must read. The fairy tale qualities were great!

  8. Jasmine Rose says:

    I probably won’t be checking this one out since hist. fic. isn’t usually my thing and it sounds like it has a lot of stuff I’d take issue with as well. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it in the end, though. Thanks for the review :]

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Jasmine! Yeah, I know you’re not big into historical fiction or fantasy, so this probably wouldn’t be your thing at all–especially since those were the good things about this one! :)

  9. […] I’ve already mentioned spurring me to immediately read more, I also talked this week about The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors.  This week had some reading disappointments (Monstrous Beauty, Carnival of […]

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