Stepsisters, Dirbani and Tana live together with Dirbani's mother in a village, struggling to make ends meet after the death of their father. One day Dirbani goes out to collect water from the village well and encounters an elderly woman who requests from her a drink of water. Kind-hearted Dirbani quickly rushes to give the woman a ladle of cool water and in return she receives a blessing. Upon returning home Dirbani discovers that every time she speaks, flowers and diamonds fall out of her mouth. Realizing that her daughter has encountered a goddess, Dirbani's mother rushes Tana out of the house in hopes that she too will encounter the elderly woman. Instead Tana is approached by a beautiful, majestic woman that requests a drink from her jug. Immediately realizing who the woman must be, practical, plain spoken Tana becomes fearful that she is not as deserving as her sweet sister for a blessing, though she receives one anyways. Soon every word that Tana speaks gives birth to snakes and toads.
Dirbani and Tana's lives are suddenly turned upside down as they are forced to leave their village due to the strong reactions their gifts have invoked in the villagers. A passing prince takes Dirbani into his home, where she lives in the lap of luxury and falls in love for the first time, even as she realizes the danger that her new gift has placed her in. Tana is forced to flee from the village because the governor, who hates snakes, has sent men to hunt her down for being a witch. For the first time in their lives the two sisters are separated from each other and they each must find a way to persevere against the challenges and dangers they face even as they attempt to discover the reason the goddess had chosen to bless them as she did.
I really enjoyed this retelling of the French fairy tale by Charles Perrault, and the interesting alterations the author had made. Rather than one sister being good and the other selfish and greedy, as in the original tale, in this story the sisters love and care for each other, despite their very different personalities. And even though one sister receives diamonds and flowers and the other toads and frogs, both sisters are viewed as having been blessed, as frogs and snakes are viewed as creatures of the goddess and are much welcomed by the villagers.
I also really enjoyed the romantic story lines which follow Tana's love for the jeweler's son, who she believes only sees her as a friend and Dirbani's growing affection for the prince, who she knows she can never have. The only fault I found with the book is that the story ends a little to abruptly for my liking, just short of the "happily ever after" ending, which was about to take place. Readers are forced to have to imagine it for themselves rather than getting to read it, which I was disappointed about.
Heather Tomlinson has succeeded in retelling a classic fairy tale in a delightful and engaging manner, while adding her own unique twists, and I enjoyed every minute of it. This was a wonderful book that I would recommend to readers of all ages, despite its YA status, and especially to those who enjoy fairy tales, strong female heroines and a bit of romance.