Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: Toads and Diamonds

Title:  Toads and Diamonds
Author:  Heather Tomlinson
Summary:  Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family's scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks.  It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely stepsister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward. Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. Diribani's newfound wealth brings her a prince--and an attempt on her life. Tana is chased out of the village because the province's governor fears snakes, yet thousands of people are dying of a plague spread by rats. As the sisters' fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love...or death?

The Dish:  I admit sometimes I can be shallow when it comes to selecting my books from the library or the bookstore.  They always say never to judge a book by it's cover, yet that is often what really catches the eye of the readers.  A more attractive cover will usually yield more pick-ups than a plain cover.  That was the case with Toads and Diamonds when I first saw it on the New Books Shelf in the YA part of our collection. It also helps having the book on display as it was where a person can really notice the cover, and the first thought invoked was 'What a beautiful picture.'  I had to know what the book was about.

The story is told through the points of view of Diribani and Tana, two stepsisters who practically behave as though they were truly related sisters.  In most fairy-tales, we knows that usually in the case of stepsisters, one  is usually kind and good while the other is cruel and wicked.  Not so in this case for despite Diribani's beauty and grace, Tana adores her as a true sister.  And Diribani does not allow Tana's intellect and skill with jewels, a trait Tana shared with Diribani's father, to cause a rift between them either.  Ma Hiral, Tana's mother, loves and wants the best for both girls even after her husband is killed.  I adore this about all three characters because, although this story has the familiar fairy-tale ring to it, they break the stereotypes of their so-called roles.

What also intrigued me about Toads and Diamonds was the unique and exotic setting of a fictional Indian country.  I haven't read any books that take place in India, so this was something different and also enjoyable.  Tomlinson created a world in which the twelve gods do participate in a more physical means, particularly that of Naghali, the Snake.  It is Naghali-ji, as she is referred to by believers in the Twelve, that turns Diribani and Tana's lives upside down though in quite different ways.

 Can you imagine having flowers and jewels drop out of your mouth every time you spoke?  Personally, I'd be afraid of thorns or diamonds poking my throat, but that is Diribani's blessing from Naghali-ji.  Then there is Tana's blessing which most would probably feel is more of a curse.  Each time she speaks, frogs, toads or snakes come out of her mouth, and in most cases, it doesn't seem so bad, but when a venomous snake appears, it can be troublesome indeed.

After the sisters' gifts are discovered, Diribani is taken with the prince's visiting party back to Fanjandibad, where he resides in order to keep her from being taken advantage by the local province's governor.  Tana is told it would be wise to leave their village because the governor is terrified of snakes, so their family is torn apart with each sister going in a different direction.  Both Diribani and Tana feel there is a meaning behind the gifts of Naghali-ji, and each undertake a solitary journey to find these reasons.  On their respective paths, both Diribani and Tana are able to see the lives of the people of the Hundred Provinces on totally opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both sides present troubles for the girls.

Although she is surrounded by the prince's people, because their faith is different, it is as though Diribani is alone in a sea of white-coats who believe in a single god.  Tana decides to take a pilgrimage to find her purpose with this gift but is soon diverted after a raid upon an artisan village leaves all the people captured and taken prisoner, including her beloved Kalyan, a jewel-trader friend of her family's.  All the while they are separated, their thoughts drift towards the other and both wonder if they shall ever see their sister again.

Overall, I loved this story with its exotic setting and delightful characters.  Tomlinson has a way with words that take you into the story that I hope any readers would appreciate.  I'd recommend Toads and Diamonds to any readers who enjoy updated or revamped fairy-tales or readers fascinated with books that take place in an Indian locale.


  1. Greetings from an Indian! =) lol...
    I've heard of this story before, it's actually quite a popular short story in the younger classes so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that there was a novel based on it! Thanks for posting the review! Now I must find where I can get my hands on this book!

  2. Goodness, I didn't realize it was a short story too! I glad you know about the novel now, and I hope you're able to find it. :D Happy reading!

  3. I will have to add this one to my wish list! I noticed it when it came out last year but it slipped through the cracks! Yay for a great review!

  4. Same here, Karen, but luckily I added it to my TBR list and knew just where to get it on the shelf. ;) I hope you enjoy it too!

  5. An interesting read! Once I got past the unique gifts that were bestowed upon the sisters, I was curious to find out where the book was leading to. Apart from the underlying storyline I also see the arduous journey that the sisters have to take to realize the true purpose of their gifts. As it turns out whether it is speaking precious gems or speaking toads and snakes, a gift is not a true gift unless its purpose is realized. Each sister has to traverse her own path and while Diribani enables the construction of step wells to quench the thirst of the common folk, Tana helps fight the plague that is taking a toll on the population. Both the sisters find fulfillment when they use their gifts to help people in need. Overall, a good book and it makes us wonder what our gifts are and if we are indeed making good use of the gifts that we are bestowed upon!


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