Monday, December 31, 2012
Pages: 310 (available in paperback)
Published: 2011 by Little, Brown
Synopsis: As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too. Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.
Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls every year after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is. Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.
Sweetly was one of those books which had been on my to-read radar for ages, after I read and basically liked Sisters Red, Jackson Pearce's first fairytale retelling. Sweetly has more in common with Sisters Red than I expected, firstly in that it featured two siblings fleeing unusual life circumstances (Gretchen's twin sister disappeared, apparently taken by a witch in the forest, when Ansel and Gretchen were younger and thus scarred them for life). I liked Sisters Red because it was so Buffy-esque-- I loved Scarlett's character, her sorrow and toughness and grit. Our heroine and first person narrator Gretchen does get her a Slayer-on a little bit by the middle of Sweetly, but she and Ansel are no Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
Nope, they aren't that kind of Hansel and Gretel. Gretchen and Ansel are rather Mary and Gary Sue, though not unlikeable. Sweetly does have a very intriguing character in the form of Sophia Kelly, the candy-maker who the siblings stay with after their stepmother kicks them out of the household. Sophia's mysterious past kept me guessing and the complexity of her character was the most interesting thing about Sweetly. Most of the small town of Live Oak blame Sophia for the disappearance of its young women, because girls run away after attending her annual party, but generous Sophia appears to be sweet and saintly as can be-- the patron saint of candy, as the locals say. As the night of Sophia's candy gala draws closer, Gretchen rushes to uncover the dark secrets of Sophia's past in order to save the girls doomed to disappear this year.
There is actually a heavy tie-in to Sisters Red which I didn't expect, and this is where I started to become meh about Sweetly. Jackson Pearce's companion novels are more companion-y than the synopsis might lead you to believe, as the terrifying Fenris werewolves do play a role and a character linked to Pearce's first book, Samuel, becomes the love interest for Gretchen. I wasn't sold on the romance between Samuel and Gretchen, or the romance between Sophia and Gretchen's brother Ansel. The ending, though, and the truth about Sophia's past, made Sweetly worth a quick read. Overall I'm not sure if I will be checking out Fathomless, Pearce's third book in this fairy tale retelling series, which is a spin on "The Little Mermaid". Sweetly would have been an interesting take on "Hansel and Gretel", except I think that the "Hansel and Gretel" part got lost in the retelling a little. Don't especially recommend this one unless you're very curious-- except to add that cool cover to your bookshelf!