Title: The Glass Casket
Author: McCormick Templeman
Length: 337 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ½
Standing there in the snow, one raven-haired beauty wrapped entirely in crimson and one pale-haired sparrow of a girl swathed in white.
“We must look like a tragedy,” Fiona said. “We must look like blood in snow.”
A series of disturbing deaths suddenly plague the small mountain community of Nag’s End during the same winter that Rowan Rose’s mysterious cousin Fiona Eira moves there with her stepparents. Things go from bad to worse not long after Fiona and Rowan’s best friend Tom fall in love. Bodies pile up as Tom’s behavior becomes erratic and violent, and frightened rumors begin to fly. But not all is as it seems. Rowan must discover the truth about her cousin–and herself–before years of secrets destroy Tom–or Nag’s End itself.
This, I assume, is what people really mean when they talk about dark fairy tale retellings. The Glass Casket is graphic and gruesome, more so than I expected it to be. It’s as much horror as it is fantasy, and its monsters don’t exactly sparkle. And while there are nods to the more familiar Snow White tale, it’s actually more of an adaptation of “Snow White and Rose Red”.
The world-building was easily my favorite part of this book. I loved the little details about the mountain society that the characters inhabited: the intriguing courtship and funerary rituals, the types and hierarchy of witches, the village stories and the possible truths behind them. I only wish there had been more of it. As-is, the world never feels properly finished.
As happens in a lot of retellings, the characters also leave something to be desired. I liked the MC, Rowan…I think. She’s sketched more than she is painted in full, though, and she’s full of contradictions: she wants
so much more than they’ve got planned to go to the palace city and be a scholar, but she’s also heartbroken that he boy she loves wants to be with someone else, but… She also has a bad case of Everyone Is In Love With Her (other than the person she actually loves, anyway). Her eventual love interest is probably the other most interesting character, though he’s also much less fleshed-out than I would have liked.
The plot is compelling and suspenseful, and I thought that McCormick Templeman did a good job at weaving fairy tale elements into what’s basically an original story. While it never exactly scared me, it is definitely eerie and unsettling at times. The Big Reveal and climax seem a little rushed and clumsily slapped together, but otherwise it’s all well-crafted. As for the writing itself, I went back and forth on it. It’s certainly readable–The Glass Casket is a a page-turner for sure–and it had its pretty and poetic moments. It also creates an isolated wintry world for the reader very effectively. Templeman makes some wonderful word choices that I loved, too. But then I’d turn the page and she’d throw a bunch of “okays” into the next paragraph or use the same expression twice in the space of a page, and I would be disappointed again. I did enjoy reading the book, though, for what that’s worth.
For some reason, I really like this turn of phrase, too. It kind of stuck with me:
Yet Lareina also knew that too much beauty could be a dangerous thing, and that often it was best to be just on the pretty side of plain. The pretty side of plain was no longer an option for Fiona, however… (47)
To sum up: if the characters and their world had been better developed and the ending, in particular, hadn’t been so slapdash and rushed, I would be very tempted to give this one four stars. As it is, three and a half is as high as I can go.