Today I am joining the TBR & Beyond Blog tour for ‘Not Good for Maidens’ by Tori Bovalino, a horror-fantasy retelling of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Salem’s Lot meets The Darkest Part of the Forestin this horror-fantasy retelling of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”
Lou never believed in superstitions or magic–until her teenage aunt Neela is kidnapped to the goblin market.
The market is a place Lou has only read about–twisted streets, offerings of sweet fruits and incredible jewels. Everything–from the food and wares,to the goblins themselves–is a haunting temptation for any human who manages to find their way in.
Determined to save Neela, Lou learns songs and spells and tricks that will help her navigate this dangerous world and slip past a goblin’s defenses–but she only has three days to find Neela before the market disappears and her aunt becomes one of them forever.
If she isn’t careful, the market might just end up claiming her too.
Content warnings: on-page gore, on-page body horror, violence, trauma
Not Good for Maidens was a book that fascinated me from the start, even though I was not familiar with the poem ‘Goblin Market’ that this is a retelling of (although I do intend to look it up). This was very much a book that drew me in with the premise, because while I feel that having read it the cover is a good match for both the atmosphere and the story itself, it wasn’t one that I fell in love with.
What I did fall in love with was the atmosphere that Bovalino has created in this book, and the way that fantasy and horror blended to emphasize that feeling. This is the kind of horror that I really love, with the dark, creeping atmosphere and the feeling that something is lurking or about to happen. It’s that uneasy kind of feeling that wraps around you and does an excellent job of both pulling you into the world, but also to the story, because you feel as though if you look away for a single second you will miss something essential. It was certainly the aspect that stuck with me longest after finishing this book, and the author really captured that haunting aspect of gothic horror stories as well as a lovely sense of whimsy.
The worldbuilding itself was a little more mixed for me. I loved everything to do with the Market, and that was where the worldbuilding really shone through and it was the most vividly realised part of the book. The market took that atmosphere and turned up the dial, and I enjoyed the dichotomy between the illusion of the market and the reality beneath it, and there were just so many details both in terms of descriptions to the people that inhabited the market, and I would happily read another book set solely there. Another reason this part shone so much was the use of songs, it just added another dimension – and it was an excellent way to make the market, and that creepy, haunting feeling stick in your mind. However, beyond this, the worldbuilding felt a little light in other places – the witches in particular. I can understand the decision to have them be witches with the folkloric nature of the market and the overall story, but the execution let it down, because the development wasn’t there especially with the magic system, and in places it almost felt like it had been added in just to adhere to that folklore.
The representation in this book was excellent and well done, and I am always here for books that have asexual characters which Not Good for Maidens has. I will admit I was not particularly taken with the characters as individuals, but what I did love was how the relationships and dynamics were handled, particularly in a family that has gone through divorce and had the weight of history across generations in play. Bovalino has an excellent grasp on how to bring those relationships to life in a way that carries the weight of that situation but doesn’t fall into tropes or completely take away from the rest of the story – and it greatly increased by enjoyment of the characters because of this. The story itself is told through two narratives told years apart, and again that generational relationship was done very well, and I loved how the two narratives were brought together, and the parallels and differences that occurred. This is very much a coming-of-age story for both our main POV characters regardless of the timeline, and both were done well.
I enjoyed the writing, although the pacing was a little off in some places – particularly in Lou’s narrative where it felt like it slowed down quite a bit. But the descriptions and again the atmosphere very much shone through in the writing. It should also be noted that there is gore and body horror in this story – taking that atmosphere to something more real and visceral, although it was not as intense as I had expected having seen the warnings, as this is a YA book. Still, if that is not your preference, be aware that it is there. But, while Not Good for Maidens is firmly on the boundary of fantasy-horror, it is very much more the gothic, lingering horror rather than the keep you up at night with eyes on the door kind of horror.
Not Good for Maidens was an enjoyable read that ticked many boxes for me – the atmosphere, the folklore (I really do want more of the Market), the horror aspects and the representation were all fantastic. A great book for anyone who wants a spine-tingling, family-focused, queer fantasy-horror.
Tori Bovalino grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and never knew she wanted to live abroad until she was already in London. She’s awful at picking favorites, but her consistent go-to books are Pride and Prejudice, Fire, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. She’s enamored with books that make her cry.
Tori holds a BA in English fiction writing and anthropology and a minor in German from the University of Pittsburgh and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. She is currently on the Creative and practice-based PhD course at RHUL, researching the relationship between Russian folklore and YA fantasy novels. In her free time, Tori enjoys reading (duh), embroidering, and traveling.
She is represented by Dr. Uwe Stender and Amelia Appel at TriadaUS Literary Agency. She writes short stories, poetry, and novels.