Author: Heather Walter
Release date: 13 April 2021
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fairy-tale, Romance
Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.
You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily ever after.
Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.
Until I met her.
Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though a power like mine was responsible for her curse.
But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps together we could forge a new world.
Nonsense again. Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—
I am the villain.
Ooookay. I’m pretty sure I mentioned this book in my 2021 Anticipated Reads list. What was it that I had said again?
It’s a sapphic retelling of Sleeping Beauty (of sorts) where the dark fairy has to race against time to stop her only friend’s deathly curse and undergoes a corruption arc – and I’d been excited about this book because I always have a soft spot for dark, passionate, morally gray stories—such as The Poppy War and The Young Elites—where the main characters aren’t so good, ruthless, and cruel.
I have quite some thoughts about this book, and I’ll try my best to articulate them here!
In Briar, Graces were the magical blood running through the kingdom’s veins. Fae who carried their will through their golden blood spilled in service to the kingdom. Our (villain) protagonist, Alyce, is seen as the black sheep of the kingdom with green Vila blood running through her veins. Her magic, earning her the moniker “the Dark Grace,” is deemed dark and monstrous unlike the “virtuous” powers other Graces have. She’s the go-to for…..less savoury magic the kingdom might need to solicit.
Of course, this sees Alyce herself belittled and hated. Alyce herself, is rightfully jaded of life as a result of her mistreatment and persecution – viewing the people of Briar as nothing but vapid creatures. Everything starts to change when she meets a man bearing the same blood she does, and run into Princess Aurora in a royal ball. For the first time, she feels kinship, warmth, and the comfort of someone who isn’t afraid of her. Who speaks to her and treats her like an equal. She quickly forms an attachment and form a secret friendship (that quickly evolves into something more in Princess Aurora’s case).
The only problem? Princess Aurora’s blood carries a generational curse inflicted by a Vila eons ago that would eventually kill her unless she is given a true love’s kiss. With her newfound connection to her roots, Alyce is determined to find a way to reverse the curse to save Aurora.
This book is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, so readers should probably have a general idea about the major components in this book. There’s a kingdom, faeries, a cursed princess, and there’s the stipulation that it can be broken by a true love’s kiss. This, however, is as much similarity it bears as Walter takes major creative liberties in Malice (not that I’m complaining) as well as drawing inspirations from other adaptations of the classic (e.g. Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty animation and 2014 Maleficent film). What results from this is an original take much darker and more energetic compared to others.
Admittedly, I had trouble with the rough dialogues and pacing but this book somehow latched its vicious grip in me and spurred me to read more of Alyce’s journey. Malice‘s first half is peppered with classic YA fantasy tropes (e.g. not like other girls trope, chosen one vibes complete with magic more powerful than most) that may potentially affect enjoyment for readers wanting a more mature, grittier story. Alyce’s character arc, however, infuses the story with something darker, something more sinister that ultimately forces us to watch the classic narrative flipped. A hero’s journey, turned into a tragic descent of a villain driven to a corner by persecution, prejudice, stupidity, horrific revelations, and most of all betrayal. She keeps finding herself being pulled in a tug of war between hope and despair, good and evil — and with that kind of pressure on top of years-long resentful rage, one could hardly blame Alyce for the choices she ultimately makes. I doubt I would be able to forget this book’s heart-pounding, relentless, blood-soaked climax any time soon.
At first glance, one may find Malice a cookie-cutter YA fantasy distinguished by its unconventional adaptation choices from Sleeping Beauty based on its first half. Come the completion of its first half of the tale (for there would be a second book), however, Malice proves itself a darkly addictive, fast-paced read that aims to shred the beauty and innocence of the classic fairy tale and forge a breath of new life from its poisoned remains no matter the bloody cost it exacts. Its main character—complex, flawed, and passionate in face of her first respite from her desolate existence—forms an almost-electric chemistry with the narrative as her heart ebbs in-between hope for a brighter future and temptation for bloody revenge.
This book is something else. It feels as if I’ve read it, yet it also feels like I’ve never read anything quite like it before. It combines nostalgia, a jaded perspective of the classic, and a protagonist walking an incredibly thin line between love and hate, between hero and villain — a very risky mix indeed.
I came into this book hoping for a malicious story, and Malice perfectly delivered. This book utterly emanates stolen hope, vitriol, resentment, rage, and pure hate fitting for its title. I have to commend Walter for having the guts to write this kind of book. I will gladly wait for this story’s conclusion.
My many thanks to Del Rey for providing me with Advance Reader’s Copy of Malice in exchange for an honest review!