ARC Review: The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag

Apologies for the late post, there are bushfires pretty much all over Australia¹ at the moment, and the confusion of the last week or so meant I didn’t realise my scheduled posts had run out, so I missed a week of uploading. I’ll post at least twice this week, as reparation.


tsg

I like this cover, it’s intriguing and beautifully drawn


I really wanted to like this story. I did like most of it. But I didn’t find the plot or the antagonist compelling, and I really wish Goldie hadn’t been the main character, because I thought her storyline and character arc was the least developed and compelling of the four girls. Goldie’s insta-love, both for her brother and Leo really undermined her development, and I enjoyed her interactions with Liyana far more than her poorly explained romance.

I did not like or sympathise with Leo, and I wish he hadn’t been involved. I think the sisters should have had more contact with each other, and I didn’t like the additions of self-harm, incest and sexual assault, some of it may have been necessary for backstory, but at times it seemed like it was included simply for the shock factor.

I think Johann Grimm (whose name was never explained) was a two-dimensional and underwhelming antagonist, and his over-the-top ‘evil’ and seeming omniscience didn’t do anything to help the pacing of the book. The sister’s interactions with Grimm definitely contributed to how boring he came across, there is no meaningful dialogue between the protagonists and the antagonist, how is the showdown supposed to be compelling without this?

I also found myself wishing at several points that the characters had been older. I think the magical coming-of-age date being shifted to twenty-one would have made the backstory of Scarlet and Goldie in particular more believable.  There were a lot of mechanics in the book that didn’t get explained properly, and others that got overexplained. The amount of times we were told the phase of the moon it took to enter Everwhere was countless, but tidbits about Grimm girls getting locked out when they turned thirteen, the lessened ability to do magic in the real world, who or what their father is (and why he’s named Johann Grimm) and how stars are recruited were haphazardly thrown in in a way I found annoying rather than engrossing.

The pacing of this book was lacklustre, and while I was invested in Liyana, Scarlet and Bea’s storylines, I did have to force myself to keep reading at times. The underlying narrative force of the book (the countdown to their eighteenth birthday) failed to truly inspire a sense of urgency, and the showdown was likewise lacklustre. I wish there’d been more focus on the sisters, and the way they interact, and I wish more of the book had focussed on them growing into their power. If Leo and the unnecessary romance angle had been scrapped, and the focus had instead been on the four girls; their intertwined struggles, personality and powers; and their eventual meeting for some greater goal, I think the book would have been much stronger and more enjoyable.

The narrator changes were fun, and I really enjoyed reading the different perspectives offered, but at times the perspectives changed too rapidly for the scenes to really have impact. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, however, as the quick-cycling narrator changes happened most often with Goldie and Leo, and as I’ve already mentioned, I did not enjoy their addition in this book. The odd second-person paragraphs about exploring in Everwhere were also sections of the book that I would have preferred weren’t there. Second person is a risky stylistic choice, and I don’t always object to it (Erin Morgenstern and Yoon Ha Lee being notable authors I think have used it to great effect), but I don’t think it worked very well in this book.

I enjoyed Bea as a character, and I really enjoyed the philosophical nature vs nurture debate as regards morality was set up nicely regarding her home life and personal aspirations. That being said, I kept waiting for her to meet up with her sisters, and when she finally did I was very unhappy with the slapdash, meaningless way their interactions unfolded. She deserved better, and the way she became two-dimensional at the end of the book was a waste of a well-developed, interesting character.

I wish the potential abilities of the Grimm girls was explored further, and also Scarlet’s mother’s history. Her story (especially contrasted with Bea’s mother) would have been an interesting way to build the world and explain the in-world mechanics of the book in an interesting way, that also contributed to character development for Scarlet and Bea. I think this was a wasted opportunity, but even were it to be developed in a future book, I doubt I’d be interested in reading it. Ezekial Wolfe’s inclusion in the book was likewise a letdown.

Liyana’s backstory and relationship dynamics with her sisters, aunt and girlfriend were great! Her interactions with her potential fiancé was also fascinating, and I wish the book had spent more time on Liyana in general. Scarlet could also have been developed further, I think a more balanced backstory would have really helped to increase the emotional investment in both the characters and story.

I think the representation of various backgrounds, and the intrinsic ways this effects both the girls’ personal lives and the way they experience the world, was included fantastically well. The dialogue included on various topics—racism, natural hair, arranged marriage, the culturally varied treatment of sexual minorities and more—while a little heavy handed at times, was a great addition to the book.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt the need to mention trigger warnings for a book, but I really think they’re required for this one. Don’t read The Sisters Grimm if you’re sensitive to mentions of—child abuse, incest, self-harm, sexual assault and harassment, violence or murder. There are also (consensual) sex scenes involving seventeen-year-olds, which, depending on your country of residence, may be underage.

I will look out for books from this author in future, as the characters she created are (for the most part) interesting, and the commentary interwoven with the plot (while at times a little obvious) was relevant and insightful. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this book unless plot isn’t a priority for you. The Sisters Grimm releases on the 5th of February, 2020.

 

¹My country of residence

 

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