Review: A Curse of Gems

If you need something lengthy to read during your extended self-quarantine, A Curse of Gems by Brittany Fichter is a terrific option. I was aware of this "Diamonds and Toads" retelling since its release last year but had little interest in reading it until it was offered it as a deal for National Fairy Tale Day and am so grateful I did. The book contained one of the most compelling love stories I ever read and built an incredibly robust world that was like a mature version of the Isle of the Lost from Disney's Descendants. It had a lot of the usual torture and religious subtext that Brittany Fichter is prone to including in her stories, but it didn't bother me as much it did in some of her other books. I was so engrossed in the characters, world, and elegant literary style that I couldn't wait to complete the uphill climb to the end.

Like many people, I was familiar with the "Diamonds and Toads" fairy tale from the adaptation Gail Carson Levine published in her Princess Tales series. It's a very story that has tropes in common with other fairy tales such as a wicked stepmother and stepsister and an abused girl who marries out of her unfortunate situation thanks to a magic spell. I was surprised that Brittany Fichter could convert such a simple story into so long of a book until I dove into her rich and detailed world of Terrefantome, a place where dangerous criminals from other fairy tale kingdoms are exiled to for generations. The main character, Jaelle, was born of such a criminal, but she committed no crimes herself and had a good heart. That is why her stepsister, Selina, was determined to help her escape and find a place that would be more suitable for someone as pure as Jaelle. I appreciated that Brittany Fichter made the stepsister a close and loving ally of Jaelle because it made this book unique and reversed one of the overdone "Cinderella" tropes from the original fairy tale. The book follows the Charles Perrault story during when Selina makes a deal with a witch that causes her to release snakes and toads from her mouth whenever she speaks and Jaelle to release gems. From there, the story heavily diverts into its own mythology.

A Curse of Gems takes place in the same universe as Brittany Fichter's other fairy tale books and immediately follows the timeline of Silent Mermaid, her retelling of "The Little Mermaid." However, this book had none of the shortcomings that I found with Silent Mermaid. Unlike the weak-willed Arianna, Jaelle is an incredibly strong and sympathetic protagonist. She works as a healer, an art that she learned from her wicked stepmother, Chiara. As a result of living among criminals, she keeps her guard up at all times by shielding her face with an enchanted mask that reminds me of something from a Studio Ghibli film. At first, I thought the mask that Jaelle wore was a Victorian physician's mask to represent her status as a healer, but when I read on about how it is tradition in Terrefantome for young girls to wear masks to hide their beauty from lustful men until they find a husband, I realized that the mask was a symbol for virginity. It was made a point throughout the book that Jaelle was particularly stubborn about ever removing her mask unless she found a man that she loved with all her heart, which was considered unusual in Terrefantome. With all the religious subtext throughout the book, it became clear that this was a metaphor for Jaelle saving herself for marriage, something that Brittany Fichter would never say outright due to her clean style of storytelling.

Prince Lucas, the love interest, was the brother of the love interest from the prequel, Silent Mermaid. Lucas was every bit as developed as Jaelle. The book begins with a letter in which Lucas learns that the father of the girl he was pining for refuses to give him his blessing. Between his determination to win over the princess of his dreams and Jaelle's distrust of men, the two protagonists must jump through many hoops in order to prove themselves to each other. As she demonstrated in her Autumn Fairy trilogy, Brittany Fichter loves to torture lovers. In A Curse of Gems, most of this torture was simply a matter of the main characters opening themselves up from their misguided perspectives and allowing themselves to be loved. I grew invested in Jaelle and Lucas's romance early on, and it quickly became my primary motivation to complete the book. It was so satisfying to see a woman who grew up being told that all men are evil to be treated with kindness and finding a man to protect her in spite of her constant unfounded accusations of him. What they shared by the end of the book was so beautiful that it made the entire journey worthwhile.

A Curse of Gems surprised me. I was expecting an overly drawn-out adaptation of "Diamonds and Toads" filled with preachy religious torture. Even though it did contain many of the tropes I've come to expect from Brittany Fichter's writing, it was fully worth the time commitment in th eend. The love story was so pure and moving that it broke my heart on multiple occasions and inspired my imagination. I loved how much thought she put into the world of Terrefantome, including interesting little details such as its residents having the ability to turn invisible and innocent women being assigned protectors from lustful criminals. Though many of Brittany Fichter's previous books have been hit or miss for me, I fully recommend this one to anyone who loves princesses and romance.


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