1389 Grimhilda’s journey
The Girl with Many Names
by S. [Samantha] Knight
Cambridge, UK: Pegasus Publishers, 2021
£8.99 (UK) $16.09 (Canadian) / 9781784659912
Reviewed by Myshara Herbert-McMyn
If I had to sum up this novel in one word, it would be potential. Samantha Knight’s The Girl with Many Names is a refreshing take on fairy tale retellings that incorporates several of the classic stories most people find familiar. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, and Snow White all come into this story at one point or another, as well as several Greek myths and their characters. Every character is brought in with forethought and given roles that subvert their original personalities, allowing our many-named main character to experience a rarely explored version of each fairy tale. The Girl with Many Names is a well-thought-out merger of all these stories, twisting each one just enough so that the puzzle pieces fit together and form an intriguing story.
Our main character has many names throughout her life, but the first one she uses is Grimhilda, so I’m going to refer to her as such to avoid confusion. Most of her character’s personality is shown through her thoughts, both in first person italics at the beginnings of the sections and throughout the rest of the novel in third person. Its easy to see from those thoughts that she feels unwanted and alone while yearning to belong somewhere and to someone. Grimhilda is an intense observer of her world and uses the information she gains to figure her way out of tough situations and orchestrate the people around her to suit her needs. Grimhilda’s thoughts are also the main method for telling the story, which is an interesting stylistic choice.
This novel was difficult for me to be hooked by and to continue reading. I was distracted by the flourishing words that seemed disjointed from each other and the story itself. As dialogue, the language used would have worked as a lovely and stand-out stylistic choice, but it was used continuously. I was waiting for regular prose so that I could read without so much effort going into deciphering what each sentence meant, and it never came. This language was most likely used to simulate a “fairy tale” style of writing. As much as I enjoy reading fairy tales that use this style, it didn’t work very well through long-form fiction. On top of that, all the action came across as passive, and it didn’t hit in the way I believe the author meant it to. I didn’t feel a rise in tension from beginning to end. The embellishments were misplaced into diction instead of action, which felt strange to read.
Samantha Knight has a similar proficiency in plot that I see in the writings of popular young adult authors, which is an impressive achievement. She winds all the different fairy tales together into one world seamlessly. I never questioned whether they all fit in the same world, nor did I question the roles that Grimhilda held in each of the fairy tales. It made sense to her journey to move through all those roles and develop along that path. If my studies of fairy tales taught me anything, it’s that they reflect our own lives, desires, and fears back at us. Grimhilda’s journey mirrors that of a person growing up and learning to understand herself through the world around her. Knight seamlessly introduces Grimhilda to all the people (Aurora, Snow White, and the Queen) and places (the tower, Snow White’s kingdom, and the hidden lake) that she needs to grow into herself.
I’ve read a lot of recently published fairy tale retellings and I’ve studied fairy tales and their variants before. It’s an endlessly fascinating topic that brings us all back to the basics: to childhood and to the distant past. Grimhilda is brought back to her past repeatedly in her thoughts – as well as in her magic mirror – to learn about herself. The Girl with Many Names was relatable in many ways, but this was the clearest message: we must know where we came from to know where we’re going. We tend to reflect on our childhoods as Grimhilda does, looking for reasons we’ve become the way we are now. Fairy tale retellings are the perfect vessel for this kind of story, easily tying into themes of childhood, growing up, and self-reflection.
After finishing The Girl with Many Names, my first thought was that I wanted more: more character, more plot, more development, more of the world, and more of the secondary characters. I was told who they were and what they were, but I wanted to see it. They felt like bland characters in a story instead of people going about their lives inside of a novel. A solid structure and unique ideas have gone into creating this world, but they are only the skeleton. I felt that the bulk is missing. Though I wanted more more flesh on the bones, The Girl with Many Names remains a lovely story with a complex plot that is well worth the read. Samantha Knight is a writer to keep an eye on.
Myshara Herbert-McMyn is a book reviewer and aspiring writer living in the Okanagan. She runs the blog Lit&Leta. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from Thompson Rivers University. Editor’s note: Myshara Herbert-McMyn has also reviewed books by Shashi Bhat, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, S.M. Freedman, Sofi Papamarko, John O’Neill, Christina Myers, Paul Bae, and Ruth Daniell for The Ormsby Review. Previously, with her TRU mentor Ginny Ratsoy, she reviewed books by Roo Phelps and Tim Conley. Myshara lives in Kelowna.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for in-depth coverage of BC books and writers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
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