Touted as ‘a Fairy Tale for grown ups’, this book explores what happens after the ‘happily ever after’ that ends all fairy tales. Here we meet Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White several hundred years* after they all married their respective princes and see the effects that long marriage can have on even the most ardent love story.
Played for laughs, we therefore see these characters at their worst as they prepare for the annual Charmingdon ball hosted by Prince Charming and Cinderella and various plots and stratagems ensue to allow various Royals and others to achieve their goals. Of course, in modern day fairy tale land, nothing is ever going to stay as it once was as quaint old fashioned ideals come against the influence of the modern world – TVs, cars, casinos all feature – and especially the forces of feminism, BDSM and an attempted Communist revolution.
This is a strange book, one which I suspect may well be a bit Marmite. Some may love it, others hate it. I found the humour to be too broad for my tastes, lacking subtlety. There are moments of true comedy and some wonderful ideas which are reminiscent of Tom Sharpe or even Pratchett but most of the humour is layered on too thick with Carry on style nods and winks that make it too blatant. I also feel that, while the didactic ‘once upon a time’ style prose is appropriate for the material, it is not the best style for a modern tale – being too ‘telling’ rather than showing in places. Once Clarke gets away from the ‘here is what is happening’ sections of prose and into actual character interaction it reads a lot better.
Overall, a not bad book but one in which I feel some of the potential was lost. The strengths are in the very modern Princesses (the Princes, such as they are as part of the plot is not enough of them, are as bland as they always are) who are wonderful but also underused. I would have liked to have seen more of them and a bit more of them expressing the feminism that they sort of hint at in their interactions with their parents. Plus I was totally expecting two of the female characters to end up paired off which unfortunately never happened.
*Because people in the land of Fairy tales live several centuries. At least the rich do.