Book Review: Malice by Heather Walter

Malice by Heather WalterTitle: Malice
Author: Heather Walter
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: April 13, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA
One Sentence Summary: A retelling of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, but from the black fairy’s perspective.

For most of my life I was something of a fairy tale purist, digging for original versions of the Disney movies I spent my childhood watching. But, as a mom, I’ve become nostalgic for my childhood and more flexible, so fairy tale retellings have been catching my eye. There was so much I liked about Malice from the switched perspective, the reinterpretation of a Disney classic, the love story of two women who shouldn’t fall in love. I also really enjoy a good villain origin story, so I’m thrilled to have had the chance to read this one.

A Twist on a Disney Classic

We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, a beautiful princess cursed to sleep for a hundred years before being awoken by true love’s kiss. But we don’t really know the story behind the wicked fairy who cursed the princess. Malice artfully and fascinatingly presents her backstory and a whole world to go with it.

Alyce is neither human nor fae and definitely not a Grace, a human child blessed by the fae with magic blood. But she was raised by a former Grace, so peddles her dark magic alongside her sister Graces’ magic of wisdom, beauty, and charm. Ugly compared to the Graces, she’s avoided unless someone desperately needs what only she can offer. But Alyce longs for more, for better.

Aurora is the last remaining crown princess. Doomed to die on her twenty-first birthday if her true love doesn’t kiss her beforehand, she seeks out Alyce’s dark magic in the hopes it’ll help her break the curse. But something blossoms between the unwanted Dark Grace and the beautiful and entirely unexpected princess.

The story, though, can only go one way.

I loved Malice because it took a familiar story and twisted it and gave the villain her own story. But I also wish it had given itself permission to further push the bounds of the Disney story, to take it in the direction I kept thinking the story was going to take. Instead, it adheres fairly closely to the familiar Disney story, sometimes almost feeling like it was forcing the story into boundaries it kept fighting against. At the same time, it threw wrenches into the Disney story, taking a stab at something new and different to distinguish itself. But, for a story that stuck so closely to the Disney version, it only made me scratch my head a little.

But it was a delightful and magical read. Walter reimagined the world in a really interesting way, brought in wars and strong female leaders reaching far back into history. The world building unfolded so incredibly well that I was just sucked in and the pages flew by. I was caught up in the utterly superficial world Alyce is forced to live in, and couldn’t help but feel angry on her behalf. I adored her story because she tried so hard, but the world was bent on making her the villain.

At the same time, the pacing was uneven, especially after the first half. I felt a little bogged down, realizing I had only been so sucked in because I found the world fascinating. There were plot points that were thinly veiled plot points, that felt almost pointless but, for whatever reason, were important to Alyce to experience. Fortunately, it picked up near the end and I loved, loved, loved reading how Alyce fully embraced becoming the villain. She was glorious.

I’m not a big fan of romance in books, so haven’t read too many queer romance stories, but the ones I did read never really satisfied me. This one did. The romance was more front and center and I loved Alyce and Aurora’s dance. They were incredible and lovely together and I just wanted them to be happy. I do wish the romance had been a bit stronger, but, overall, it was a wonderful one that really helped shape Alyce.

A Villainess in the Making

Briar is, largely, painted to be a very superficial society, especially if you’re wealthy and not a commoner. So, of course, I expected a slew of superficial characters in Malice. They didn’t disappoint. But there are also so many surprisingly complex and interesting characters. They went deeper than the skin and helped peel back the pretty layers of Briar.

The Graces are girls who were blessed at birth to have golden blood and colorful hair. By their natures, they should be superficial, doling out elixirs for beauty, charm, wit, wisdom, artistic abilities, and more. Their job is to make the wealthy beautiful and be beautiful themselves. But many of the ones the reader gets to know are deeper than that. They have their own worries and fears. Many of them don’t go beyond the superficial, but we get to know Alyce’s sisters: Laurel, Rose, and Marigold. There’s more to them, or, at least, to some of the Graces, so it was fun to get to know them.

Alyce herself is a fascinating creature. Not human and not fae, she’s something else entirely. It makes her look strange and ugly in the superficial society, and it twists her. But there are also glimmers of gold in her heart, a desperate need to want to do and be good. She struggles against the vileness of her blood, of her dark nature that she can’t shake off no matter how she tries. I loved her story, of her descent into villainy, because it didn’t have to be that way. She was just a young woman making the best of her situation and wanting happiness just like anyone else.

I loved everything about Aurora. For someone with such incredible superficial prettiness, she was anything but superficial. Kind, caring, witty, smart, and desperate, she was complex, strong willed, and stubborn. I loved how she subverted the noble society, how she tried to make her own way.

A Continent of Strained Relations

Malice introduces the world of Briar, a gifted home to the humans by the fae who merely tolerate them because of an old promise. Throughout the book, we get the history, from the first queen to the current crown princess. It was fascinating to see the descent of these women who had started out with such a strong matriarch.

The whole world was quite interesting. Divided into three lands, it houses the fae, the humans in Briar, and long wiped out dark creatures in an inhospitable land. Honestly, they each seemed a little simplistic, but I liked the varying approaches to their entangled histories, to the subtleties of their individual societies that are slowly revealed. There’s also a greater world beyond this land, one from which princes come to try to break the curse, but we only get little inklings of what they were like.

The magic, though, was fascinating. The fae and the Graces and the dark creatures all had their own forms of magic that were used in different ways. In Malice, the Grace magic, in particular, is really explored. I loved that it was housed in the Grace’s own blood, and that the cost was high. It helped heighten the fear of every Grace, and twisted more than one.

A Delightful Retelling of Sleeping Beauty

Malice presents a very reasonable alternate story to the Disney version. I just wish it had broken out of the boundaries of that story to take a life of its own. Then again, it probably wouldn’t really be a retelling. As a retelling, it was, actually, quite delightful. I loved getting Alyce’s villain origin story. Her romance with Aurora was sweet, and her life a complete mess. The world bent her no matter how hard she tried to fight it, and it really gave her no option. There were some elements that baffled me a little as I tried to fit it into the idea of this being a retelling, so I both enjoyed it as a retelling, but also felt it could have been so much more if it had liberated itself from that confine.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups

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Thank you to Del Rey and NetGalley for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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5 thoughts

    1. Thank you! It’s a really great retelling and everything about Alyce’s story was fascinating, so I hope you get a chance to read it soon and enjoy it.

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