This book was such a struggle to get through, and I might not have done it if I hadn’t been grimly determined to see how Heather Walter made good on the terrific premise of Sleeping Beauty’s true love actually being the dark fairy who cursed her. In the land of Briar, bordering on the fae land of Etheria, a long-ago treaty between humans and fae made it so that Graces are born whose golden blood can produce elixirs that enhance the abilities of their fellow humans. Briar, being a roundly stupid place, squanders this gift primarily on petty vanity.
When our heroine Alyce is discovered as a baby, it’s readily apparent that she’s half Vila, the magical race of once-fae whose corrupted powers led to their seeming extermination. But some Vila have apparently survived, and after a nightmarish childhood of testing and torture by humans and fae alike, Alyce is finally given the role of Dark Grace, whose green blood is used to enchant elixirs of physical misfortune for clients who wish semi-permanent harm to their rivals.
Chance encounters lead her first to a possible mentor who informs her that everything she’s learned about the Vila is wrong, as well as to Crown Princess Aurora, beautiful and doomed to die on her 21st birthday if she’s not released from her curse by true love’s kiss. A procession of royal male suitors is brought in to “save” her, but as Aurora and Alyce fall in love, they begin to wonder if there isn’t another way.
Great premise but told in a way that’s infuriatingly dull when not making idiotic narrative choices. First of all, it’s glaringly obvious that Alyce being employed by anyone other than the Royal Court is complete nonsense. I also found myself annoyed at the idea that the Briar Queens all gave up their power to their kings throughout generations. As a metaphor for female complicity, sure I get it, but it also ignores the fact that most women don’t willingly hand over power but have to have it taken from them, even moreso in monarchic structures. Sure you’ll get the occasional queen who will broaden her consort’s powers, but for every Mary II, you’ll have Elizabeths and Anne and Victoria firmly putting their men back in their places. And not out of any feminist belief — Lord knows Victoria was notoriously misogynistic — but because vested power in a ruler does not like to be divested. It was also weird to me how Alyce lamented Briar’s lack of military strength, given their heritage, but then clutched her pearls that King Tarkin was trying to restore said strength. Like, what did she think that strength was for?
Which leads to the greatest flaw of this book: that Alyce is dumb as a box of rocks, and doesn’t make up for it by being kind or even interesting. She’s like fantasy Holden Caulfield, mopey and dopey and utterly convinced that everyone else sucks without ever wondering if she’s the one who sucks. The fact that there are only two, maybe three, non-animal characters who come out of this entire book not being an evil jerkface says a lot about the “woe is me” air here. The thing about surviving trauma is that while it may well be the reason for your shitty behavior, it doesn’t excuse your shitty behavior or somehow mean you don’t have to, much less can’t, try to be a better person.
And frankly, the romance sucked. There’s one really hot sex scene but I did not believe for a minute that Aurora would fall in instalove with a moody personality who also kept being unfairly mean to her. Honestly, it felt like reading the diary of a shitty teenage boy fantasizing about the hottest, most popular girl in school suddenly falling in love with him despite all his off-putting behavior towards her. And I cannot be the only person baffled by the ending! Wtf is a Nimara? How is it at all relevant to the story we’ve just read? Was it a detail related to a queen of old that I missed because it got lost in the never-ending bore of how put upon Alyce was? Honestly, I’d read for several pages then lose interest because everything was so flat and repetitive, and I’d have to force myself to keep reading: couldn’t Ms Walter at least have hammered home the meaning of the ending if she was going to yammer on about everything else?!
I’m also less than thrilled that there seems to be a sequel planned for this hot mess. This book ends at a weird point in the Sleeping Beauty myth, and I’m not sure how Ms Walter is going to give readers the HEA we deserve. As with the premise behind Malice, the themes going forward have so much potential, but after reading this alternately dull and insulting book, I don’t trust them in the hands of this author.
Malice by Heather Walter was published April 13 2021 by Del Rey and is available from all good booksellers, including
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