Living in the picturesque city of Cambridge, England are Goldie, Liyana, Scarlet, and Bea, four ordinary teenagers who have never crossed paths—except in their dreams. As children, these half-sisters, all daughters of a powerful demon named Wilhelm Grimm, visited the hauntingly beautiful fantasy plane Everwhere in their sleep, discovered their latent elemental powers, and learned that, upon turning eighteen, they would have to choose between good and evil—a choice that would shift the fate of the world. Then they turned thirteen and forgot everything.
As the girls’ shared eighteenth birthday approaches, their paths slowly lead them back to each other. But it’s not only their father they need to fear; it’s also the soldiers he’s sent to hunt them… and the dangers of the harsh modern world they call home.
With a title like The Sisters Grimm, van Praag’s first fantasy novel sounds like it’s all about fairytales. Except there’s a battle between good and evil, demons and fallen star soldiers, and coming-of-age romantic and sexual escapades thrown into the mix, too.
A diverse dream cast
The Sisters Grimm introduces readers to four girls living completely different lives: Goldie, a hotel receptionist working to keep her brother in school; Scarlet, a caring teen managing her grandmother’s struggling indie café; Bea, a headstrong philosophy student of Spanish and Colombian descent; and my personal favorite, Liyana, an aspiring artist trying to keep her scholarship to the best art school in England, as well as her relationship with her girlfriend Kumiko. Beyond the sisters, we also see into the minds of Leo, a soldier who falls in love with Goldie, and other figures in the girls’ lives.
A nightmare of a structure
But with great ambition comes great responsibility, and the novel, which alternates between past and present, while shifting from one point of view to another, doesn’t give the reader enough time to connect with any one character, let alone five. The girls’ relationships with their male love interests feel tired and required rather than kilig-inducing and compelling. (And Liyana has a girlfriend, which made her arranged marriage subplot worrying.)
And the biggest problem is this: Peeling away the magic, the many characters, and their daily struggles, I realized that I never understood what the stakes really were—or why I should care. Without that central piece, everything faltered.
A coming-of-age narrative for adults
The Sisters Grimm is a lush, romantic, and lengthy novel with an intriguing premise and promising characters with difficult, often traumatic backstories. But despite the protagonists’ ages, it isn’t for teenagers; and despite the existence of magic, fairytale references, and Everwhere, it feels less like fantasy and more like adult fiction with a dash of magic.
While The Sisters Grimm may not be for YA fans or avid fantasy readers, grown-up fans of comic series W.I.T.C.H., lovers of contemporary romance, and patient readers who like sisterhood and a bit of fantasy with their tea may find The Sisters Grimm a bewitching read.