Henry Holt & Co.
IQ "She wouldn't think about him. [....]She wouldn't remember their every previous encounter and search it for a hint of his feelings, the way she'd examine a rough gem, teasing out the glory hidden within its heart. No, no, no. How could she do anything else?" Tana pg. 104
Diribani is sweet, generous and loves seeing the beauty in the world around her. When she goes to the village well she meets a goddess. The goddess gives Diribani a wonderful gift, when she opens her mouth and speaks, flowers and diamonds fall out. When she arrive back home from the well and shows her step-mother and step-sister Tana the jewels, her mother sends Tana out to the well to get a blessing from the goddess. However, when Tana goes to the well, she is hesitant, bold and honest, the goddess gives her a gift so that whenever she speaks toads and snakes come out. Diribani herself is quite beautiful and her beauty attracts a prince and attempts on her life. Tana's gift ends up with her being forced to leave her home because the governor is afraid of snakes and thinks she's a witch. Each girl is beginning to think that her blessing is more of a curse.
This is a retelling of Charles Perrault fairytale "Les Fees" (The Faeries), which I was unfamiliar with. One of the biggest differences between the original and the author's retelling is that neither girls are arrogant. Both Tana and Diribani have minor flaws, but they are good, almost annoyingly perfect. I think that's one of the few things that I didn't like about this book. The main characters didn't really have any flaws. They were critical of themselves, but I didn't see anything wrong with what they actually did. I had to keep in mind that since this was a fairy tale, the ending was going to wrap up neatly and be happily ever after for most people. The characters were all excellent, again they had no big flaws so it was hard to relate to many of them, but I could understand their fears and trials. Also, both girls were really independent which I loved. The romances were sweet, especially between Diribani and Zahid. They have a really cute scene that involves trader-talking which is a concept that I found really cool. In trader-talk you don't talk, customers and merchants use their hands (that are hidden under a table or cloth) to make bargains. Tana and Kalyn were more frustrating, but their relationship felt authentic. There was more action in Tana's side of the story, but I was more interested in Diribani's story even though the pace was much slower. The word choice is lovely and provides excellent imagery "The gaiety rolled over Diriban's head like a spring storm, all wind and heat lightning, without the relief of a good soaking rain." (pg. 220) In that one little sentence I was transported to life in pre-colonial India and understanding what the weather was like there.
I wasn't expecting this novel to have so much of a focus on religion, but it turned out to be a good thing and one of the most rewarding experiences of reading Toads & Diamonds. Diribani is a Believer and she struggles with how to follow her faith when she is living in the midst of white-coats whose beliefs are seemingly so different from her own. Now Jodie and I disagree (all in good fun) with which religions in this book are based on real life ones. The author is quite clear in stating in her Acknowledgements that the religions of the white-coats and the Believers (the two main religious groups in the story) are based on real religions, but not completely. That being said, I think the white-coats are most strongly based on Christianity. Jodie says Islam. I think the only thing about the white-coats that reminded me of the Islamic faith was the head and face covering, but the early Church insisted women at least cover their heads. The Believers worshipped one God which is the biggest clue that they are Christians, but I suppose it could also have elements of Judaism. Jodie and I both agree that The Believers seemed to be largely based on Hindus in large part because of the multiple gods and goddesses and the vegetarianism. I also could clearly see the Buddhist influences. However this is pure speculation on my part since I know very little about world religions. The author does say in her note that she drew influences from Sikhism and Jainism as well which are two religions I'm not too familiar with (I know a little more about Sikhism from Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger). Another interesting thing about the book was temple dancing. I don't want to give too much away, but the idea of dancing and self-defense was one that I was enthralled by and I wish that I could really see it!
Toads & Diamonds is a delightful read that brings to light a relatively unknown fairy tale. I love how the author wrote a retelling of a less popular fairy tale, it was a lot of fun to read about. I do wish that the characters weren't so flawless because it made them unrealistic, but I was still able to relate to some of their thoughts and emotions. The surprise addition of religion into the mix was a welcome surprise and adds a bit more depth to the novel than the normally fluffy Disney fairy tale. Settle in for a trip via armchair/sofa/bed to India before the British took over.
Disclosure: Received from the author. Thanks so much Heather!
PS Sorry for such a long review!