Tomlinson, Heather. Toads and Diamonds (2010). 278 Pages. Henry Holt and Co. $16.99
The cover is what grabbed my attention. The color is so vibrant and lovely that I couldn’t help noticing it. Then I looked at the image itself, and then I noticed which story it was. I’ve always been interested in the Toads and Diamonds tale, but it’s so rarely re-written that I’ve honestly never seen it before. It was brilliantly done, and I loved it. No point in dragging it out; this book gets a 5 of 5.
Diribani and Tana are the main characters, step-sisters who love each other very much. Tana’s mother cares for both her daughter and her step-daughter. However, Diribani’s father (a very successful gem merchant) is recently deceased, leaving his family penniless and in turmoil. The three women live in a tiny house in a small town, struggling to get by.
The story starts with Diribani going to the well to fetch water to make dinner for her family. When she arrives, she meets the goddess Naghali, where her longing for beauty is granted, and she gains the ability to speak flowers and gems. Tana then has to go to the well because Diribani broke their water vessel due to shock. She also meets the goddess, but under slightly different circumstances. Tana longs for a way to protect her family, and is gifted with the ability to speak snakes and frogs.
This doesn’t stay secret for long, and the girls are separated; Tana is to be given a home outside the city limits where she can speak snakes without bothering anyone, and Diribani goes with the prince, who will protect her from the avaricious governor of their region. Of course, both girls feel that they have some destiny, something which they are meant to achieve, but neither of them knows quite what.
The setting is somewhere between the Mughal Empire and a magical universe, and the conflict between two religions which are based in reality is a dramatic background. The meat-eating monotheistic ruling class is in direct conflict with the polytheistic, vegetarian Hindu-esque middle and lower classes. The conflict between the two is not resolved in this book, but this was also not the point, so it is to be expected that it continues.
The Quick Version:
With a unique setting, a great twist on an old plot, and great pacing, this book is solid. Add to that some lovely prose, and you’ve got a winner. The pseudo-Indian characters with the Anglo story create a fascinating novel. Because the book is made up, you are not expected to know anything about Hinduism, the Mughal Empire, or Islam, though if you know of them, it is clear the book was well researched. Because it was so very enjoyable, this book got a 5 of 5 rating.