Of all the fairy tales, the story of Hansel and Gretel is my least favorite. Something about it has always rubbed me the wrong way. Yet when I read Jackson Pearce’s retelling of the story in her latest novel, Sweetly, there was nothing I didn’t absolutely love about it.
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 it’s 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.
Though a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, Pearce takes her own personal twists on the classic tale and turned it into a breathtaking story of love and fear. The terrifying prologue sets the tone for Sweetly, with it’s blend of strong sibling bonds and pulse-pounding terror. The rest of Sweetly tested that bond between Ansel and Gretchen. Despite that emotional intensity, there was enough action and adventure to keep me on the edge of my seat throughout the story.
Gretchen was a strong, courageous heroine, determined to get over her life long fears and start a new life. Ansel was just as determined to start over after their evil step-mother threw them out. He’s just as determined to be the good guy and save everyone he meets either from harsh realities or mental prisons (like Gretchen’s fear of the woods).
Each of the secondary characters had their own faults and flaws that made it easier to connect with them. That connection also made everything feel more real – the love, the fear, and Gretchen’s nightmare of the sound of the slow, plodding footsteps of the witch as it hunted down its prey.
The plot was well balanced, blending the emotional relationships and the intense action scenes. Sweetly wasn’t just a love story or just a horror story, but one of survival and discovery.
Sweetly is listed as a companion novel to Sisters Red because Samuel is one of Silas’ brothers, though Silas, Scarlett nor Rosie make an appearance. So while you don’t have to read Sisters Red before you read Sweetly, it is a truly amazing book and you should read it anyway.
The only people who should not read Sweetly are those on a diet because it will make you crave chocolate. But I think it’s totally worth the cravings and heck, everyone deserves a little chocolate every now and then. Or maybe you could simply enjoy Sweetly because it it truly better than chocolate.