When I picked up McCormick Templeman’s The Glass Casket, I assumed it was going to be a straightforward reimagining of Snow White. And for a while, my assumption was supported: It features a character with “red lips and raven hair,” a sweet girl who’s absolutely beautiful and doesn’t really realize it.
Except [SPOILER] that then her heart gets ripped out. Literally.
It took a little while to grab me—partly because it has a slow build and partly because I had difficulty with a couple of aspects of the narrative voice—but once it did, it had me, and it had me until I’d finished the entire book.
First, let’s just deal with the problematic aspects! Number one: The emotions are regularly conveyed via telling, rather than showing:
“Why won’t your father acknowledge me?” Fiona said, her excitement quickly replaced with hostility.
And Number Two: Despite the clearly fantasy-medieval feel—the customs, the culture, the regular exclamations of “Goddess!”—the characters quite often use more modern-day vernacular:
“We have to go through the woods to get to her, and I have no clue what’s happening here.”
However! As I said, once I was past my minor quibbles, The Glass Casket had me TOTALLY ENTHRALLED. The storyline was compelling, interesting and jaw-droppingly, gorily surprising—excellent enough to make the book work all on its own, what with nods to Red Riding Hood, chapter headings pulled from Tarot cards, superb atmosphere and a well-argued-on-both-sides debate about folk beliefs versus scientific inquiry—but more importantly (at least in my view), the relationships between the characters were complex, believable and emotionally honest.
The major players are a quartet: We have the bookish heroine, Rowan, and the Snow White lookalike, Fiona; and we have the two brothers, Jude, who’s drop-dead handsome but less-than-reliable, and Tom, who’s got average looks but who’s the local do-gooder and darling boy. Tom is Rowan’s best friend but falls for Fiona at first glance; Rowan finds Jude obnoxious, unsettling and often annoying; Fiona appreciates Jude’s beauty but appreciates Tom’s constancy more; Rowan wants Tom to be happy, but finds that she’s strangely unhappy when he declares his love for Fiona; Jude appears to ignore Rowan most of the time, but also knows more about her than her own best friend. It isn’t so much that the ultimate resolution of the love quadrangle is surprising—it isn’t—it’s that it’s entirely satisfying. By the time Rowan finally realizes the direction in which her affections actually tend, I was almost FALLING OVER due to the anticipation…and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.
Bonus points for making me Suspect Certain Things, then for Distracting Me away from Said Things, then for ultimately revealing that I was right in the first place. Basically, in The Glass Casket, Templeman pulls off the best sort of fake out: the kind that both gives the reader a big surprise AND allows her to feel entirely smug about having figured it all out ahead of time.
I’ll very definitely be going back to read her first book, and I’ll very definitely be looking out for whatever she writes next. TWO THUMBS UP.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.