Book Review: The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag - a YA fantasy

Book Review: The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag

Title: The Sisters Grimm

Author: Menna van Praag

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication date: March 31, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: When a demon seeks to dominate humanity and spread darkness, he fathers a string of sons and daughters, pitting them against each other once his daughters turn 18 before giving them the choice of joining his side. Goldie, Scarlet, Bea, and Liyana are four such daughters. As children they discovered the unique link between them, their powers, and a magical place called Everwhere that can only be accessed in dreams at certain points in their lives, and specific gates. When they turned 13, Everwhere became lost to them, as well as their memories of the place and each other, but the sons, the soldiers, gained entry and their powers. Now, a month before the girls turn 18, Everwhere begins to reveal itself to them. Their powers begin to return, but they have no idea of the danger and choice that lies before them on their 18th birthday.

There were two reasons why I was drawn to this novel: the mention of Grimm made me think of fairy tales and I hoped this book would have a bunch, and the elemental nature of the girls’ magic. I was hoping for a beautiful book about magic and fairy tales, something that would both enchant and horrify me (there is mention of a demon, after all). Instead, I’m not quite sure what I got, but it wasn’t what I expected.

The Characters: Teens Thrust Into Adult Roles

Going into this book, I knew the main characters were not quite 18. I knew there was a good chance it might fall in the YA category despite not being listed as such. Still, I was so intrigued by the Grimm family name and the magic that I was willing to take a chance. I was hoping for young women who were strong and capable, but perhaps on a teetering edge. Instead, I got characters who felt like they were on the edge of childhood and adulthood. They were each being pushed into more adult roles despite being only 17. It was sometimes difficult to remember they were only 17 when they found themselves in so many adult situations (as well as what felt like a staggering number of times they slept with people!). I can’t tell you for sure whether this falls into the YA category as I’m not familiar with those books, but it was a far cry from the adult fantasy I enjoy.

Still, the characters were not all bad. They were interesting as they found themselves in different adult dilemmas and faced decisions that are difficult for people several times their age. They had streaks of love towards their families, threads of selfishness, and, ultimately, a strong sense of duty. Each girl was interesting, but none of them felt truly unique. As a matter of fact, I often blurred some of them together. I like to think they were each very different as sometimes that was very evident, but, other times, I just couldn’t tell which sister was speaking. It was also a little confusing because only Goldie ever told the story in first person and I have no clue why. She was also the main narrator, I think, but, again, I couldn’t say why. It was a little weird and a little jarring, but the story got told.

The Setting: Breathtakingly Bizarre

What I really loved about this book was the setting. It was my absolute favorite part. Now, I enjoy a good book set in the UK. I’ve read many books set in the UK, to the point where reading one is as comforting and familiar as reading books by American authors that take place in America. I enjoyed being able to explore the streets of places like Cambridge and London, though they didn’t actually provide a strong sense of place.

What did have a strong sense of place was Everwhere. It both sounded breathtaking and bizarre. There are leaves that never actually fall, but remain floating. The landscape changes constantly and paths magically take the sisters and soldiers to wherever they need to go. It was almost as though the realm shifts and folds so those who are supposed to meet do. I loved the constantly shifting landscape, loved that it felt magical and mystical. I especially liked the starts to those Everwhere chapters that were in second person and really put the reader into Everwhere. It made the realm eerie and creepy, but also delightful and mystical.

I would totally go to Everwhere, but not on my eighteenth birthday.

The Plot: Not as Many Fairy Tales as I Hoped

So, I loved the setting and the characters were passable, but I’m not sure I enjoyed the actual story as much. I can’t tell you for sure if this is a YA book, but it made me feel like it was. It deals with love interests and young women being pushed into more adult roles.

There were a number of things that bothered me. I didn’t like that three of them had family members they seemed close to for most of the book, but who seemingly vanished by the end. Their roles felt like they were built up for a purpose, but then it just fizzled out. Once the love interests entered, their families were seemingly deemed uninteresting and irrelevant. It felt like threads had just been lopped off. I liked the sisterly tension, but, since one of them was so caustic to the others, I didn’t quite understand why there wasn’t more fighting as there usually is between sisters who differ. It felt like everything was done on purpose, that the needling was there to play a role and the complacency was there for a reason as well. It made much of the story feel artificial and not really character-driven. Though there were some scenes I was a big fan of.

I had hoped for a book that involved fairy tales, but Grimm turned out to be less fairy tale writer and more something sinister. There weren’t a whole lot of fairy tales going around, so I was quite disappointed. But there was a fair bit of magic. I felt it took too long to get to the magic. It was heavily hinted at for the first third or so, but not much evidence, just a spark here and there. I found it interesting that, as the month wore on, more and more of their memories surfaced and their magic began to manifest again, but then I couldn’t help but wonder how they could become powerful enough to defeat the soldiers sent to kill them as well as either each other or their father if they literally didn’t realize their powers, much less their fates, until it was practically too late. There were several things about this book that didn’t make sense to me, but it was still a pleasant, quick read. It just lacked a cohesion that made sense to me, and fairy tales.

As for the end, don’t even get me started. I don’t know where the story was going, but it felt like it just dropped off and then a few general things about the aftermath were given. It left me wondering what, exactly, happened to the surviving sisters and how their lives changed as much of the book was focused on them having to deal with changes and sacrifices. I have no idea how their lives turned out.

Overall: Had Some Good Moments

This is as terrible a book as I may have made it out to be. The setting is beautiful, the characters are interesting, and the story is pleasant if you don’t think too hard about it. I don’t think it was my cup of tea, but it was still fun and had some good moments and points. I wouldn’t mind having one of their powers, and I adored how they manifested outside of Everwhere and impacted their lives. I had hoped for more of it, but, considering their memories don’t come back until it’s almost too late, I suppose it made sense. I think this could be an interesting book for the right reader. It just wasn’t really for me.

How many cups of tea will you need?

3 cups should do

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Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Voyager/HarperCollins for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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