Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman by Lily Blake

A breathtaking new vision of a legendary tale. Snow White is the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen who is out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with a huntsman who was dispatched to kill her.

Let me start by making it incredibly clear that this review relates to the book, not the film ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ – despite the two being linked, I loved the film. My feelings for the book however are on the other end of the scale.

I usually make it a rule that books based on a screenplay/new film are to be avoided. The other way around and I don’t mind, I love seeing how a book has been adapted to make a film, but for some reason when you reverse the process everything goes a bit pete tong.
However, as I said, I love the film, to little pieces in fact. Little pieces I will be sharing in a separate review coming soon. So I thought I’d put my pre-conceptions aside and give the book a shot, and I really wish I hadn’t.

First off having characters and a plot ready made and waiting apparently makes a writer sloppy. There is no real characterization, no development, no build up, no tension, no justification, rhyme, reason, or in fact anything very much, apart from an incredibly bland script for the film with a few adjectives thrown in for good measure. If I was coming to this book without having seen the film first I wouldn’t have had any idea really about any of the characters except for the fact that Ravenna likes to laugh evilly a lot, which in itself made me want to throw things. In the film Ravenna is portrayed incredibly – the performance is subtle with so many layers to peel back, so much emotion and so much in play, and most definitely no evil laughing.

It was like the author took all the fabulous thing, layers, brilliance and symbolism from the film and then stomped all over it. For example in the film the White Hart is used for a really beautiful and symbolic moment – yet in the book we have a white stallion and a complete blank on any symbolism.

As I’ve touched on, the completely brilliant and nuanced performances of the leads and the layers they brought to their characters were completely squashed here. It was an exercise in telling the reader everything, from the way Ravenna sits on her throne, to bad descriptions of her costumes, to how characters feel about each other. Fantastic ideas and imagination were crushed beneath heavy and uninspired prose. It was a brutal massacre of what could have been an incredible companion to the movie, that could have used the ideas and layers brought together on screen and developed them into a complex and beautiful novel. But instead we were offered this, which quite frankly is a bit of an insult. To throw a really good retelling of an age old fairy tale away on a slap dash effort of writing was a wasted opportunity. All you have to do is look at some of the films, tv shows and books being released right now to see that fairy tales are making a come back, they are everywhere, and now is a prime time to throw in with that and produce some written companions to the screen versions.

I did enjoy some little details that were not explained so well in the film, and putting them into words really added to the story. For example the depth of Finn and Ravenna’s connection and a little more of their backstory. I also quite liked the lengthening of the courtship between Ravenna and the King – on the one hand it gave more time for everyone to fall under her spell, whereas on the other the suddenness of the marriage in the film worked really well juxtaposed against the King’s grief.

On a completely personal note one of the little details I loved about the film was that we never learn the Huntsman’s name (unless I had a complete blank, in which case feel free to correct me.) Whereas in the book instead of maintaining that fabulous air of mystery he is called… Wait for it… Eric. Now I have nothing against the name Eric as a rule, I think it’s a lovely name, but really? This big, epic Huntsman, in a world inhabited by Ravenna’s and Snow White’s is called Eric?... No. Just no.

Maybe part of the problem for me is this idea of ghost writing books. We've got it with The Vampire Diaries and Stefan's Diaries, and with other movie books as well - at least this time we got the name of the writer. But there does appear to be a decidedly second rate, in my eyes at least, approach to ghost writing books like this. Is it that they are on a tight time frame when writing? Are they given too many constrictions to work with? Or even what brief are they working with? Maybe there a lots of extra factors at work with books like this that make the finished product come out at such a low quality. Whatever factors are at work, I really find that books written in circumstances like this never seem to have the same level of content as novels written to stand alone.

So if you dislike writing and fancy wasting four pounds I strongly suggest you read this. If on the other hand you’d like to see some fantastic examples of fairy tales I recommend seeing the film ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’, ‘Mirror Mirror’, the TV show ‘Once Upon a Time’ and the books ‘Entwined’, and ‘Enchanted’

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