Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson
Sophie Masson‘s unofficial fairy tale trilogy is linked only by the presence of feya (powerful fairies) and certain geographical locations, which hint that Scarlet in the Snow, Moonlight & Ashes, and The Crystal Heart all exist in the same world, though none of the stories or characters ever interact.
Each one is based on a traditional fairy tale, with Scarlet in the Snow providing some interesting twists on the story of Beauty and the Beast. What if Beauty’s father was dead and it was instead her mother who was struggling to make ends meet? What if Beauty actually investigated the Beast’s identity, in an attempt to find out who he was before the spell was cast? What the Beast had a companion, an old feya woman who was as cryptic as she was helpful? And what if halfway through the love story, Beauty had to leave the enchanted castle and go out into the world on a quest of her own?
Yeah, at about the halfway mark the story becomes less “Beauty and the Beast” and more “East O’ the Sun and West O’ the Moon”, which does wonders in deepening the story and making our heroine more proactive. Heck, Masson even throws in a character that reminded me deeply of Baba Yaga, which makes sense, considering this retelling of the story is set in a fictional version of Russia.
Natasha is on her way back from delivering one of her mother’s portrait commissions when she’s caught in a terrible blizzard. Finding shelter from the storm in a strange mansion, she carefully explores the place, noticing empty frames on every wall. Out in the wintry garden she spots one red rose in bloom, but after being unable to resist touching it, finds herself the prisoner of a terrible Beast.
Sophie Masson fills her story with all sorts of intriguing details that bring new perspective to the familiar fairy tale: werewolves, art galleries, witches, glass rooms, and roses both white and red. It’s a bit of a mishmash at times, but Masson keeps control of the plot and manages to throw in some genuinely clever twists along the way.
Unfortunately, the love connection between Natasha and Ivan isn’t particularly genuine: they spend only a few hours together before Natasha is declaring her love for him, which is enough to spur her on a dangerous adventure to win him back. Perhaps if she had simply acted out of friendship, and left the romance to the happily-ever-after, it would have worked a bit better?
With that exception, I really enjoyed reading Scarlet in the Snow and consider it the best of the three fairy tale-themed books. Masson’s prose is always lovely to read, with just the right amount of descriptive detail and poetic turns-of-phrase.