Monday 31 October 2022

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Review: Not Good For Maidens by Tori Bovalino (#Ad)

Not Good for Maidens by Tori Bovalino is on a deep blue scarf with metallic silver moons and stars, on a diagonal top left to bottom right. Around it are fake cobwebs. On the top right corner of the book is a dried rose, and rose Bryan’s are scattered around the book.

I was sent this finished copy for free by Titan Books for the purposes of providing an honest review.

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Not Good For Maidens by Tori Bovalino

Published: 12th September 2022 | Publisher: Titan Books | Source: Publisher
Tori Bovalino’s Website

Salem's Lot meets The Darkest Part of the Forest in this horror-fantasy retelling of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market.

They'll lure you in with fruit and gems and liquor and dancing, merriment to remember for the rest of your life. But that's an illusion. The market is death itself.

Beneath the streets of York, the goblin market calls to the Wickett women -- the family of witches that tends to its victims. For generations, they have defended the old cobblestone streets with their magic. Knowing the dangers, they never entered the market -- until May Wickett fell for a goblin girl, accepted her invitation, and became inextricably tied to the world her family tried to protect her from. The market learned her name, and even when she and her sister left York for Boston to escape it, the goblins remembered.

Seventeen years later, Lou, May's niece, knows nothing of her magical lineage or the twisted streets, sweet fruits, and incredible jewels of the goblin market. But just like her aunt, the market calls to her, an echo of a curse that won't release its hold on her family. And when her youngest aunt, Neela, is kidnapped by goblins, Lou discovers just how real and dangerous the market is.

To save her, both May and Lou will have to confront their family's past and what happened all those years ago. But everything -- from the food and wares, to the goblins themselves -- is a haunting temptation for any human who manages to find their way in. And if Lou isn't careful, she could end up losing herself to the market, too.
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I had been really looking forward to reading Not Good for Maidens by Tori Bovalino since it was announced. A sapphic and asexual retelling of The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti? Right up my street! While I enjoyed it overall, I wasn't quite as keen on one of the timelines.

The story is told in two timelines; in present day we follow Lou, whose teenage aunt and best friend Neela has been abducted while visiting the Goblin Market. Her family in the UK have history with the Goblin Market that Lou had no idea about, and is only discovering now. When her mum is injured, Lou is the only one who can enter the market and attempt to save Neela. Eighteen years previously, we follow May, another of Lou's aunts, as she falls for a goblin and is enticed to enter the Goblin Market, when she knows better, and the terrible things she experiences.

I personally found May's storyline more engaging. She knows about the Market, has her whole life, and knows the rules. She knows what happens to those who enter the Goblin Market, and yet she's tempted anyway. I don't want to spoil too much of the story, but I loved the conflict in her. Because of who she is, who her family are, her future is set in stone. She has no choice, but it's a life she definitely doesn't want. May feels trapped, and like she has no control. But she does have a choice about whether or not to enter the Goblin Market, and even though it's a terrible idea, she decides to risk it. She'll be fine; she knows the rules, she can keep herself safe. I just really loved May. She's flawed and makes bad choices, but I rooted for her. I really enjoyed the sapphic romance, too; is there any way a human can be loved by a goblin? May's story was so gripping, and I couldn't wait to read what would happen next.

With Lou's timeline, however, not a great deal happens. Lou learns about her family and their long history, what has been hidden from her all her life; she feels betrayed to have not been trusted with the truth, even though it was to try and keep her safe. And she enters the Market to try to save Neela. I just felt in comparison, more happened in May's timeline. I think part of this is down to the fact that both stories run alongside each other concurrently. While it's Lou's first time entering the Market, it's not the reader's first time of seeing it, because of May entering the Market. So we get all of the awe and wonder, but also how disturbing the Market is when May enters, and it would feel quite repetitive to show Lou reacting the same. So it's brushed past quite quickly. Especially as Lou is there for an entirely different reason; she's not there to be wowed by the wonders of the Market, she's there simply to save Neela. Get in, find her, and get out. And because she's learnt about the dangers of the market while her aunt is in danger, there is no appeal for her. She cannot understand why anyone who really knows about the Market would choose to enter it willingly. She's absolutely terrified, but she must save Neela. I was just much more emotionally involved in May's storyline. When you have both visits to the Goblin Market told side-by-side, it felt like there wasn't enough going on in Lou's story.

I also found it fascinating the way May and Lou reacted differently to the goblins. While goblins have glamour and magic, they also have this inherent magnetism. Humans are inexplicably drawn to goblins and their terrifying beauty. Even though they're scared, it's like they're caught under some kind of spell. They're not completely without conscious thought and discernment, as seen with May, but they are tempted, and it's a temptation that's difficult to ignore, as shown by the humans in the Market in both timelines who have completely given in to it. But Lou isn't tempted at all. She's not drawn to any of them. It's not discussed or touched on in any way, she just isn't; she's scared, and she wants to get out. And it made me wonder if it's because she's asexual. But not in the sense that she's missing something, that doesn't come across at all in the story. More like she has an advantage, a protection against the goblins, the other people we see don't. As I said, it's not mentioned at all in the story, or even hinted at, it's something that occurred to me while seeing how differently May and Lou react. I could be completely wrong, it could just be that her fear overwhelms any temptation. But I found it fascinating to consider as I read.

Despite my issues, I did enjoy Not Good For Maidens overall. I really liked the bisexual and asexual rep. I loved how it was written, and really look forward to reading more by Bovalino in future. The whole story is wrapped up with a proper conclusion, but there's a tiny element that hints at the possibility of there being a sequel, and if there is, I'd willingly enter the world of the Goblin Market again.

Thank you to Titan Books for the review copy.

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