Malice by Heather Walter
Publication Date: April 13th, 2021
Hardcover. 496 pages.
Publication Date: April 13th, 2021
Hardcover. 496 pages.
"Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.
You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.
Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.
Until I met her.
Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.
But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.
Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—
I am the villain."
I feel like I keep reading great books lately, and yet again we have a winner because Malice is easily one of the best book I've read so far this year. This has all of the classic fairy tale tropes--evil kings, cursed princesses, magic--and turns it into something darker and more unpredictable that absolutely captivated me.
Malice is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and the ways in which Walter incorporated the traditional story elements was truly brilliant. I was so thrilled by how cleverly Walter managed to bring everything together in such a unique and unexpected way. I had no idea this story would go in the direction it ended up in, but I loved it even more so what it did. This story is set in a world called Briar, a rather hedonistic society that is focused on beauty, wealth, wit, and perfection, all of which are accomplished via the abilities of the Graces. Graces are women "blessed" with the golden blood and the ability to create elixirs with their blood that grants users with any number of traits dependent upon which Grace you visit (i.e. a beauty Grace, healing Grace, etc.). For this story, we follow the "Dark Grace," Alyce, whose magic is seen as a dark curse and is used only for hurting others.
The story is told entirely from Alyce's perspective, and her voice and experiences were unbelievably compelling for me. Alyce is ostracized from the society she has grown up in and is constantly cast aside and shunned as something abhorrent. I've never been an outsider to quite the same extent as Alyce, but I certainly have felt like an outsider throughout a lot of my life and have felt that same lack of connections that she has, which made this a particularly meaningful read. Alyce is deeply bitter and angry (and rightly so) about her lot in life and her treatment from the Graces and society as a whole, and that bitterness is stark in her narrative voice. Her sarcastic comments and general negative thoughts about everyone are at times humorous, but there's always an undercurrent of darkness that hints at a true hatred towards those who around her. It's this darkness that really seems to drive Alyce throughout the book and motivate all of her actions. Until she meets Princess Aurora, that is.
Princess Aurora is one of the many prominent figures in Alyce's life that we meet, and her relationship with Alyce was developed in what seemed to be a very thoughtful manner. There was no instant closeness or trusting bond, but instead things between them grew at a steady pace that I think captured Alyce's penchant for distrusting people well. In addition to Aurora, there are many other side characters that all play roles, both big and small, in Alyce's life, and I found it particularly interesting to see how these characters impacted her thoughts, opinions and experiences, no matter whether they were overtly hostile towards her or simply not quite as welcoming as they might be to someone who is not Alyce.
One of my favorite things about Malice--other than Alyce, of course, who is endlessly captivating--is how immersive it felt. This is fairly long book at 496 pages (according to Goodreads for the hardcover), but it feels like I sped through this in no time. It was also one of those where anytime I put down the book I felt as though I had to sort of take a moment to pull myself out of Alyce's head and focus on reality (which is never fun). Walter's prose is simple and elegant, descriptive but not excessive. I found it utterly engaging and that it had the perfect pacing. I thought that there was a nice mix of seeing Alyce interact at her home at the Lavender House, practicing some magic in a secret location, and visits to the royal house for a variety of mysterious summons. I was never bored reading this, and I think part of that is because no matter what was actually happening plot-wise, I was always engaged with and connected to Alyce, our storyteller, which made it easy to follow. I also found myself constantly excited and in awe over the small details that Walter included to bring this world to life and to connect this story more firmly to the original fairy tale. There are so many delightful details that brought me so much joy (in a dark, morbid way), and it really just makes me that much more excited to see what Walter will "grace" us with next.
Many of you will also be pleased to know that there is prominent LGBTQ rep in this, so if you've ever wanted your fairy tales to be a little less heterosexual, then this might be one you'll definitely want to pick up. Heather Walter's author note talks about how much it means to her to be able to publish a fairy tale with this diversity in it, and that really meant a lot to me to read and to feel that much more excited for it.
Overall, I've given Malice an easy five stars!
*I received a copy of Malice courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*