Pin remembers nothing. Her past life is a blank. Her current life is being a Seamstress for the Godmother. Despite not remembering her past, Pin is convinced that she has one and is determined to escape the fortress ruled by the Godmother. But for Pin, escape is just the beginning of her problems.
This was a twisty fairy tale retelling, and I really liked the concept. The Godmother has a castle full of slaves she’s stolen from their homes, wiping their memories so they don’t remember their pasts. She forces them to work for her – as Seamstresses, Candlemakers, Cooks, Spinners, etc. It turns out that the reason she has these slaves is so they can create the items she needs for the fairy tales she is living – except the main players in those fairy tales are also being forced into the Story against their wills.
Pin’s determination to fight back against the Godmother and the Story is great. She works with a Shoemaker (/love interest), and throughout the book they instigate a rebellion against the Godmother, even as the Story is trying to force them into its Happily Ever After.
But despite a great concept and some decent storytelling, there were still several moments where things just didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. The love triangle (of sorts) felt very contrived, and I had some issues with the the villain situation, which I’ll discuss in the spoiler section below.
Still, I was leaning towards a 4/5 read until, literally, the very last page. It was at that moment that I realized that what had been bothering me about this story was really its overall message – this concept that while you may find love and some brief moments of happiness, “happily ever after” is really just a fairy tale that you can never hope to achieve. And I guess I think that’s wrong – although maybe that’s because I don’t think that “happily ever after” means “zero problems for the rest of your life.” I think that “happily ever after” is the moment in your life when you are comfortable and content with who you are, and while you will continue to work to improve and learn throughout whatever time remains to you, that overall sense of contentment and peace stays with you, whether you are single or a couple.
So to me, being told (and telling the YA audience of this tale) that happily ever after is unattainable – all love fades after a time – there will always be more hard times than good times – any sense that you are having a happy ending means you’ve been tricked into complacency – well, I found it borderline offensive.
In the end, 3/5. There is a loose sequel to this book, apparently, set fifty years after this story’s conclusion, and I think that I will read it, because much of this writing was good and the concept was really well done overall. But the message, combined with the villain scenario, ended up aggravating me too much to bump this book up another level.
Spoilers concerning “the bad guy” – and that aggravating last page – below the cut (although I honestly don’t think they are spoilers that would destroy the fun of reading the story) –
So basically, all through the beginning of the book, the Godmother is the Bad Guy, and she’s A+ fabulous. Creepy, manipulative, and cruel, she is a really awesome character. I kind of love villains who don’t need to be physically strong to destroy the Good Guys, and the Godmother was a classic example – completely cold.
Then, somewhere along the line, it turns out that the Godmother isn’t really the villain per se – she is merely a victim. The Story is the Bad Guy. Except the Story isn’t really a person, or any kind of sentient being. It just… is. It’s like saying a volcano is the Bad Guy. The Story forces people to do its will (Happy Endings) and every Happy Ending gives the Story more power to force the next batch of people into a Happy Ending. Except the “forcing” is sort of the same way that a volcano makes people leave the region because it’s starting to shoot out ash and smoke – it’s just doing what apparently comes naturally?? And somehow, apparently, the Story is forcing the Godmother to do its bidding, and she’s helpless to fight against it, so she has to keep forcing people to the Story’s will or… well, we aren’t really told what the “or” is. And if the Godmother isn’t doing this for her own benefit, then what’s the point? Is the Story going to eat her or something? Why wouldn’t the Godmother just be like, “Oh, thanks but no thanks”? And this whole thing with Pin’s mother was apparently the Witch, so she was always the person who fought against the Godmother – well, what was the point of that? Because apparently the Godmother isn’t the problem – it’s the Story. So how did the death of Pin’s mother benefit the Story? It seems like having the characters overcome adversity is a critical part of the Story and would give it more power.
Having the Story be the villain enormously weakened the overall tale. With the Godmother in control, everything made sense, and there was focus. But with the Story as the villain, the ending felt kind of pointless. Yay, we beat the volcano. Or something.
And speaking of the ending – here is a section of the last page, where Pin (aka Pen, it’s a long story) and the Shoemaker (whose name turns out to be Owen) are together at last. Owen has his own shoemaking shop in the new world, free of the Story’s machinations:
He gives me a wry smile and my stomach does a happy flip. I will never get enough of his smile.
Then he turns sober. “You were brave, Pen. I was afraid – no terrified – but you led us out. Over the wall and all the rest of it.”
“Mm,” I say. “And here we are.” We are silent a long moment. “I won’t be a shopkeeper’s wife, Owen,” I say.
“I know you won’t.”
“There are no happily-ever-afters,” I add.
He looks me in the eyes, holding my gaze. “I never thought there were,” he says.
I step closer. Then I lean in and brush my lips across his. His arms come around me. “Do you know what true love is, Owen?” I ask him.
“I know that you’re about to tell me,” he answers.
“It’s this,” I say.
And I kiss him, and he kisses me, and it is the beginning of everything.
So I suppose an argument could be made that the point is that there are no happily-ever-afters because love is actually the beginning of everything, etc. But this whole ending scene annoyed the bejeebers out of me on so many levels. Why the heck is Pen refusing to be Owen’s wife? We are given no indication as to why Pen would be unhappy in this role, or what she is going to do instead. But what we are told is that, apparently, a life-long commitment isn’t “true love” or a “happily ever after” – just kissing and “being together” is what true love is.
Which, I suppose, is par for the course in our current world. No chance for a lifetime of happiness together – only a few snatched moments of passing pleasure.
I’m not really positive that that’s what Prineas is really saying. I think there are several ways to interpret her ending. But, for me, it really smacks of disillusionment. Instead of love conquering all, we get love as a temporary pleasure. And to me, that’s just sad.