Malice by Heather Walter

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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    • ANNA ROSSI on July 30, 2021 at 1:59 pm
    • Reply

    I think you seriously went too far in your judgement of Ms. Walter’s novel “MALICE”. It’s fantasy it’s her first book and FYI I loved it!!! and can’t wait for the 2nd part “NIMARA” to come out!!! Apparently you have lack of imagination and take life WAY TOO seriously. This book is too be enjoyed its easy to visualize many of the scenarios and characters in the book I for one can relate alot to the character of “ALYCE” although I’m human not a magical creature . You just lack the reasoning and capabilities to see what the book is really about. Mabe you need to get into another line of work besides being BLATANTLY MEAN!!!! and possibly jealous(little green blood of your own?) when it comes to judging others TALENTS??

    1. I’m very glad this book provoked some strong emotions from you! I love when books connect with readers, even if those same books didn’t connect with me.

      But I do think you ought to consider whether your defensiveness of this book is healthy. People can disagree without assuming the worst of each other. In the immortal words of the creator of Stan, “Why are you so mad?” I didn’t like this book and stated my reasons. You can like the book without taking my opinion as a personal attack. I guarantee you that I don’t know you and wasn’t judging you, and I’m truly sorry that my professional critique of a book that you like has hit you so personally.

      It’s good to see yourself in a book, but please don’t identify so much that you let a book become your personality. You’re more than some stranger’s words on a page. Getting upset enough to write comments like the one you just posted, just because someone else didn’t like the words you like, isn’t good or healthy for you. It’s great to have passion, but you have to channel that through reason if you want to make people care about your opinions, too.

      I sincerely hope you have a good weekend.

    • eris on December 29, 2021 at 1:06 am
    • Reply

    hmm i honestly disagree with a lot of the points raised here— i think that alyce not being kind isn’t really comparable to the idea of trauma justifying shitty behavior (while definitely true!) since alyce’s trauma is both intergenerational AND codified into how she interacts with literally everyone. like she’s effectively one of the last remnants of a literal genocide, and that also reflects on how she’s perceived in the public space: it’s recognizable that she’s vila, and that’s not something she can hide. literally everyone she meets—from servants to nobility, from queens to strangers in the street—understand that she is THE vila before she is anything else. every single one of her social interactions plays out along those lines, because people in briar are socialized into understanding the vila as cruel and evil and disgusting, and alyce is socialized into believing those things about herself too. that hatred is literally inseparable from the larger culture and politics of briar— the vila/malterre is seen as the evil version of the fae, and the mortals got briar BECAUSE they helped kill all the vila. it’s literally part of their national identity to hate vila and want to wipe them out.

    so that’s the sort of context alyce is raised in. you can’t really expect her to talk or think or even exist outside that system of discrimination, because it’s what defines her identity and upbringing. i don’t think she’s anything like holden caulfield at all. her distrust and sullen personality are survival mechanisms in a world where literally everyone a) knows that she’s vila just by looking at her and b) hates her for it. look at when she goes to the first ball, and how happy she is to just wander around without that sort of discrimination! and look just how heartbreakingly quick it falls apart, too. she can’t let herself be some sort of optimistic, kindhearted person.

    and it’s because of this that i found the romance so compelling. so much of alyce’s character and motivation is about just staying sane and alive when every single person you’ve known your entire life wants to kill you, use you, torture you, study you in a lab, or all of the above (except for that shopkeeper lady, shoutout to her). even thinking about running away and the notion that she could one day live her own life outside of briar is a total act of rebellion in itself. but the fact that the way aurora makes her feel is enough to make alyce consider staying and fighting, that’s really cute n adorable to me! it’s her realizing that she isn’t ugly and horrible and all the things she’s been told her whole life, realizing that she is capable of being loved, of being touched, of being happy.

    sure, maybe aurora falling quickly for alyce might be a little unrealistic, but feelings are feelings, and i think sometimes we all fall for people quicker than we expected. additionally, as we heard her mention, aurora doesn’t even know what she really looks like, thanks to grace magic— she’s spent her whole life being carefully groomed for this role as princess, and that reflects on her physical appearance, as well as the way everyone treats her. alyce would be COMPLETELY different than anyone she’s ever met before. also, it’s a fairy tale !!! i think falling quickly and inexplicably in love is a cornerstone of the genre, and i thought it was cute we got to see that happen for a sapphic couple.

    i do agree with you that the idea that the queens would willingly give away their power to their husbands makes little sense cause like,, why would you give away your power willingly, especially if you were socialized in a matriarchal society, but whatever!! i guess you needed it for the plot dfjsnfjdsn

    also !!! nimara is the name of the first vila who made malterre !!! mortania is telling alyce her name, since it was erased from history. i think it’s a nice parallel since nimara made malterre with her fae lover who followed her even after her corruption, so it’s kinda asking questions about whether or not aurora will do the same for alyce, while also giving alyce the opportunity to shout across the world a powerful name they tried to erase.

    1. Honestly, I wish you’d written this book because your explanation of Alyce’s off-putting personality made so much more sense than what was written on the page. I definitely sympathized more with Alyce after reading your examination of her context, but wish I’d been able to feel that when I was reading the author’s words prior to yours.

      Also, where did you find out about Nimara etc.? I searched the book for another reference to that and it just… wasn’t there. It would have been really cool if it was! Oh my God, wait, I just re-read that last page several more times. Oh, good grief. Thank you for clarifying that for me, because the explanation there is written in the most tortured way possible, all dangling noun pointers and shifting experiential foci, blah.

      I do disagree with the idea that I should be okay with instalove here because that’s a hallmark of fairy tales. In fairness to fairy tales, most of them take only a handful of pages so need to speed up their narratives, whereas this book had hundreds of pages in which to develop its plot.

      As I stated in the first paragraph of my review, I really love the premise of Sleeping Beauty falling in love with the “evil” fairy. I just really disliked the lack of craft here, that I feel failed that premise and made what should have been a really cool sapphic subversion boring and unbelievable to me instead.

      Regardless, thanks for writing in! I appreciate the fact that you got much more out of this novel than I did, and wish you continued joy in your future reading.

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