Book Review: Charm by Sarah Pinborough

We all know the story of Cinderella, but Charm turns the classic fairytale on this head.

You may or may not be familiar with Poison, Sarah Pinborough’s first novel that twists Snow White into a dark, sexy fairytale for an older audience.

Pinborough, realizing there are more stones to be overturned and plenty more fairytales to be re-told, is back with a second novel, Charm; this time putting her own unique spin on Cinderella.


It is a cold, relentless winter that seems to have gone on far too long in the town where Cinderella lives, in a cramped house in need of refurbishment. Money is short and Cinderella doubles as a housemaid for her stepmother, Esme, and stepsister, Rose. It is an unpleasant existence, getting up at dawn each morning, preparing the porridge, kneading the bread, stoking the fire and making the house comfortable for her family.

The first chapter sets a chilly winter scene in the heart of a far away land. A man goes around town putting up posters warning the townsfolk that a young child has gone missing in the woods. As so the fictional scene is set. It is when we meet Cinderella that Charm becomes more of a chore to read, than the initial enjoyment.

First of all, I would just like to point out I give all books a chance and this has to be the only book so far this year I have really disliked. Secondly, I haven’t read any other books by Pinborough, so can only judge her writing on this novel alone. The first problem was Cinderella, who is an annoying, selfish girl. It would be easier to sympathies with her having to do all the housework, cooking etcetera if she didn’t moan and whine about it so much. The fact that she feels she deserves better tells me that she probably doesn’t; you don’t get what you wish for, and thinking that she is a much better person that her stepsisters makes her the exact opposite.

Another reason my initial love of this book was spoilt was down to the, quite frankly, unnecessary sexual content that sprang out of nowhere. One minute Cinderella is having a conversation with a guy, the next things have moved on to another level entirely. I felt is it was rushed and out of place – there is no need to ‘sex-up’ a story that didn’t need it. The fact that these scenes were so irregular and rushed made them hard to connect with, from a reader’s perspective. These kind of scenes also cancel out a large proportion of the target audience. Because it is not a book suitable for children, it can only be read by adults. However it is a simply written book – perfect for children but too ‘easy’ and straightforward for a more mature audience.

It’s a shame I didn’t like it because Charm had all the right ingredients for a perfect fairytale novel, but they turned sour the more I read. I can’t fault the writing itself, it’s just written for the wrong audience. If this book was marketed at a young adult audience, it would have been ideal, but it just seems to have been handled all wrong. As an adult, this book does not appeal to me; including sex-scenes in a children’s book was never going to work on a classic such as Cinderella.

I didn’t like it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. Pinborough has another book out later this year, Beauty, so clearly someone likes them enough to publish them. Give it a read and see what you think.


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