Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Review: Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. 
Pages: 288
Received: Goodreads First Reads from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 


From Goodreads:

Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family's scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks.

It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely stepsister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward.

Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. As the sisters' fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love . . . or death


A pleasant reading experience

Ah, I so loved this book. Reading Toads and Diamonds was like settling into a hot bath after a long, hard day. I just laid back and allowed myself to float into the story. The pacing was languid, but not slow, moving along with the almost dreamy quality of fairy tale retellings. Though I prefer fast paced books, the pacing of T&D is perfect for the story. Just like you wouldn’t gobble down a Godiva chocolate, T&D requires a pace that allows you to savor the book.

The chapter perspectives alternate between the two sisters, though both are told in the third person. This is a standalone book. Though I eventually loved the story, it did take me about fifty pages to really get into it. Once the girls begin speaking toads and diamonds, the story really picked up for me. Before that point I had considered DNF-ing. I am very glad I stuck with it.

Excellent world-building

Sinking into the story was easy, in large part due to the superb world-building. The story takes place in a blend of fictional and real India and follows the sisters as they travel across the varied landscape. The arid deserts and lush jungles were described so well that I felt transported there. I could almost hear the insects buzzing and feel the humid air.

The cultures and religions are also a blend of fiction and reality and are told with exquisite detail. I never felt mired in the details though. I was just as curious to learn about these traditions and beliefs as I was to see the plot advance. As interesting as it was to see the characters interact, it was equally interesting to see how their competing cultures struggled for dominance and compromise.

Fairy tale characters

This is a fairy tale retelling and, as such, the characters are not extremely fleshed out. Their characteristics are told more than shown and they are unrealistically perfect. Their romances are equally unrealistic and advance at the rapid pace of a typical fairy tale with the perfect love interest and happily ever after ending. In a regular novel, these features might be something to quibble over, but this is a fairy tale retelling. As such, it hits the mark perfectly.

Both sisters possessed such a pure goodness about them that I really enjoyed reading. Sure, it might have been unrealistic, but sometimes it’s nice to read about a character that is just genuinely goodhearted. The secondary characters were more realistic, especially the princess. Though a secondary character, she possessed a complexity that really stood out and intrigued me.

Hits the mark

When I read retellings, I primarily look for the author to create an original spin, but still retain enough identifiable features of the original story. T&D met my highest expectations. The original story is French, and so the Indian setting is entirely new.

The relocation to India is a stroke of genius and allowed Heather Tomlinson to subtly tweak the story to add depth and a new perspective on what constitutes a curse and a gift. The relocation is so perfect, in fact, that it feels like the story was created for this setting—chafing all these years in its European setting and only now in Heather Tomlinson’s hands has it found its natural place.

I loved her interpretation of the gifts, even though I did find it predictable. I thoroughly enjoyed following the ripple effects of each gift. Tomlinson took the original story, which is not terribly far reaching, and spun two separate journeys that are as much physical quests as they are exercises in personal growth. The moralistic quality of fairy tales is retained, but the scope is much wider.

Once upon a time

I highly recommend Toads and Diamonds to readers looking for a fairy tale retelling, especially one set outside the more traditional European setting. Though the world building is very fictional, there is much basis in fact as well and I think readers who enjoy immersing themselves in historical fiction will appreciate the world Heather Tomlinson has created.

 Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

This book satisfies the following challenges: 

Looking for more fairy tale retellings? 
You might like: 
Spotlight List: Sleeping Beauty Retold


  1. I saw this on your TBR list and I wanted to read it just because I know your type of fairy tale and it fits mine. I can guess the story, but I want to read it anyway. When I was little I thought fairy tales all came from India, that was the land of spices and elephants and tigers and jungles and exotic things.

    You wrote a great review! I liked the reference to savoring it like a Godiva chocolate. Nice style to your review. I like the change! This is a definite on my list.


  2. Ooh, I want to read this now! I love the synopsis, and the cover is gorgeous! Awesome review. =)

  3. Excellent thoughts. I agree. The pacing was slow for me too, but as you said, it didn't bother me because the story needed that pace. Loved the setting too...

  4. Aww this one sounds lovely. I am wondering though why Tana speaks toads instead of jewels. I probably wouldn't have picked this one up because I'm not keen on books that go on about any religion, but this one doesn't sound heavy going at all. I might just have to add it to my wishlist.

  5. Oh, what story re-telling is it?

    It sounds good, and thanks for the warning about the pace. :) I like to know that before hand so I know it's worth sticking to the story.

    I'm going to add it to my list of to get!

    Thanks for the review!

  6. Lovely review. Looks like if you had DNF this one you would have truly been missing out. I loved your comparison of the story with Godiva chocolate. What a perfect way to give the impression that it is a savory story. And the India setting sounds magical in its own right.

  7. Oooh! I forgot about this book. Ah, this sounds like the type of story I've been wanting to read. I love fairy tale retellings.

  8. I just finally got this one from the library. So excited you liked it!

  9. I simply must catch up on my fairy tales. There are lots of retellings coming out for stories I've never heard about before. I'm going to be an outcast! Gah! I'm glad you stuck with this one, since it sounds like a great read.

  10. Heather, You sound like Sara from A Little Princess the way you speak about India :) The story is pretty easy to figure out very early on, but I enjoyed it anyway. I didn’t even realize I had used a different style for my review! I just babble :)

    Dazzling Mage, The cover really is so beautiful. The hardcover book itself is green and it looks fantastic up against the pink of the cover. I hope you enjoy the book!

    Annette, Wasn’t the setting a great idea? I felt like the story was made for India. I can’t imagine it any other way now.

    The Slowest Bookworm, Lovely is a perfect word to describe it. I’d tell you why she speaks toads (and snakes), but that would be spoiling things :) Though their religions play an important role in the book, it’s never “preachy” at all.

    Alex, The original is called the same thing (or sometimes Diamonds and Toads). I wasn’t really familiar with the original until afterwards. You’re very welcome about the warning. I’m the same way with wanting to know if a book is worth sticking through a slower pace. I hope you enjoy this one!

    Missie, I really would have been missing out! The setting really did make it feel magical. The story inside is as lush and rich as the cover. I was very happily surprised.

    Need Tea, I hope you like this one! We’ll have to swap fairy tale retelling recommendations some time. I love them :)

    Melissa, Ooh, I hope you love it! I can’t wait to see your review.

    Logan, Haha, don’t worry, I didn’t know this one until after I had read the book. The good thing about fairy tales is they’re short and easily found online, so you can catch up quickly. I’ve had to give myself a refresher for a lot of fairy tales, and a lot more I only knew the “sanitized” versions so I had to learn the originals.

  11. How cool! I haven't heard of this one. I'm fascinated by India and haven't read many stories set there. It's even more interesting that it incorporates fantasy.

  12. " I just laid back and allowed myself to float into the story" That line there just makes me want to read the story alone. Beautiful review Smalls :)

  13. I'm adding this to my TBR list. ;)
    I would have missed this title, if not for your review.

  14. Oh wow, this one sounds great. What a detailed review. I will add this one to my TBR list for sure. It sounds like a nice light read, which leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy. Gotta love those types!

  15. Oooh, this sounds good! I haven't heard of it before. I love how you start your review, that's a lovely way to describe the feeling of getting lost in a good book :)

  16. Alison, I hope you enjoy it! The setting in India was just as engrossing for me as the actual plot.

    Nic, Thank you! I hope you enjoy the book. :)

    Madigan, I hope you enjoy it! I probably would have missed it myself if it wasn’t for Goodreads reminding me about it.

    Gina, That is a good description! I hope you enjoy it. I think it would make for a great summer read.

    Stephanie, I’m glad you enjoyed my review. :) I hope you like the book too.

  17. Great review! This sounds like a book I’d really enjoy :)

  18. Christie, Thanks! I hope you do enjoy it. :)

  19. What a great review! I've been wanting to read this one for a while, since I love fairy tales so much. It sounds beautiful.

    Also, I love that you pointed out you are forgiving of lesser character development and things in fairy tales. I've noticed that in myself too! I'm very forgiving of my fairy tales, as long as they *feel* like fairy tales to me.


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