“I am the Queen. I don’t talk to postmen.”
We all know the story of Snow White and how her innocent beauty and charming, kind-hearted personality drive her stepmother wild with jealousy. We are familiar with the trusting nature that is very nearly the death of her, the glass coffin and the prince who comes to her rescue with an awakening kiss.
This is what I thought when I first picked up The Queen’s Tale. But I was in for a fabulous surprise. I fell in love with how Kaye Umansky retells this tale from a new perspective – that of the evil stepmother. It is a superb, imaginative achievement. I couldn’t help but relish the Queen’s rage as she orders her huntsman to bring her Snow White’s heart and her disgust at the unpleasant, butchered mess that is duly returned to her. But, of course, the hapless servant has failed on his grisly mission, thereby provoking the Queen into still greater paroxysms of rage. Off she sets, with a suitably symbolic poisoned apple to tempt her stepdaughter.
This tale might be the Queen’s, but Kaye’s lively retelling doesn’t invite us to feel sympathy for her. I was, by turns, delighted and appalled by her vanity, her callous self-importance, and her hatred of her stepdaughter. But, naturally, I could also appreciate why the Queen’s cage might be rattled by Snow White. Kaye depicts her as an annoying, faux-naif little thing, given to forming friendships with cute woodland creatures and doting on her father, the King, in cloying fashion.
The Queen’s haughtiness and sense of entitlement make her a truly magnificent villain. Kaye captures perfectly the Queen’s strong, spiteful voice and her duplicity in keeping her secrets hidden – “I know a thing or two about magic”. I love how the Queen’s superior tone brings the story alive and allows for lots of witty asides. She is presented as a rather nasty lady who lunches, spending her time shopping and taking tea – “the macaroons were to die for” – when she’s not mixing poisons in the basement. She even has a seeing pool – “pretty much just a garden pond with extra magical features” – so she can keep an eye on goings-on in the kingdom, which means she is underwhelmed by the King’s gift of a magic mirror, even more so by the genie’s “high and squeaky” voice that “didn’t go with his looks”.
There’s only so much of Snow White’s bonny and blithe nature that the Queen can take and – inevitably – the mirror’s announcement that Snow White is still the “fairest in the land” tips her over the edge. When it comes to getting rid of her rival, the Queen doesn’t mess about, although her murderous ambitions have a farcical edge, too. Her swithering over whether to choose “the gorilla suit” as a disguise makes me laugh every time.
The Queen’s Tale is a witty, clever and enticing treat of a book, with a gorgeous front cover and lots of brilliant artwork inside. Kaye Umansky is a stylish and entertaining writer with a real gift for appealing to our instinctive love of the unpredictable. If, like me, you enjoy seeing the world from an unexpected angle, then this ingenious, original – and very queenly – tale is for you.
Find The Queen’s Tale for sale here – you can read the first chapter below.
Kaye has also taken on Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella – check out The Wickedest Witch in the World and The Stepsisters’ Story as well. Watch this space for another Umansky fractured fairytale coming later this month, this time featuring Sleeping Beauty!