Review of The Godmother

Author: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Year published: 1994
Where got: Public library
Genre: Fantasy (real world, alternate reality/possible future), fairy tale

As I mentioned yesterday, I went to the library to look for a suitable romance to review so I could keep my promise to choose reading material outside my comfort zone. Found no romance I liked the look of, but came home with The Godmother, Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen and Foucaults’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading The Godmother, never having read anything by Scarborough before. What got my attention was the the title and the cover , which shows a middle-aged woman (who resembles Lauren Baccall) with a knowing smile and a pose of authority and confidence, surrounded by graphics that suggest magic and interposed on an image of the Seattle skyline (immediately recogniseable because of the Space Needle). Woohoo, I thought. Magic in the modern world. Nice!

I finished it in one sitting, around 2 in the morning and went to sleep with my head full of fairy godmothers and talking cats.

What follows might be considered by some to be SPOILERS, so if you want this book to totally surprise you, please stop reading here and skip to the rating at the bottom.

The story:
In an alternate reality or possible near future, Seattle social worker Rose Samson is toiling under an unfair official policy that is turning the place into a hopeless hell for the homeless and the abused. One day she cynically whishes for a fairy godmother for the city, and is surprised and incredulous when one turns up.

A lost teenager, two homeless young people, a street gang, dangerous pedophiles and two missing children are some of the things Rose has to deal with, aided by her police officer love-interest and the godmother, Felicity Fortune. Felicity doesn’t use much magic, only resorting to it when things get tough. Instead she relies on her psychic talent and a widespread net of connections among people she has previously helped.

A savvy reader will immediately recognise several fairy tales in their modern incarnations. Some of the ones I identified were Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Hanzel and Gretel, Blubeard and Puss in Boots.
Scarborough isn’t afraid of describing violence – people get beaten up, poisoned and sexually molested, but in the end the good and the innocent get the good they deserve and the bad get their comeuppance. Oh, and there is a little romance as well.

The technical points:
The story is well written and well plotted with some minor flaws in the plot. The beginning is somewhat slow but it’s necessary in order to introduce all the different characters and narrative threads that come together later in the story. Although there is a fair amount of violence, it never becomes too graphic, and the author handles it sensitively.

Sometimes I thought she was being a little too simplistic or not clear enough. For example it is never really explained why the evil toad decided to help bring one of the godmother’s good causes to a happy ending (unless it was just from a desire to be kept safe until he could become human again), and the reasons the author gives as to why Rose’s accusations against the bad guys are unlikely to be believed seem unlikely to hold up in a court of law when there is so much physical evidence to support them.

Aside from these minor flaws, this was a good read and a gripping story, but not one I am likely to want to re-read.

Rating: A modern fairy tale with social conscience. Recommended for everyone who likes fairy tales. 3 stars.


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