Review of Dark Shimmer

napoli_dark shimmerDark Shimmer
by Donna Jo Napoli
High School   Lamb/Random   358 pp.
9/15   978-0-385-74655-7   $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-90892-4   $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-375-98917-9   $10.99

Napoli’s latest fairy-tale revisioning is set amongst the beautiful homes and mysterious waters of fifteenth-century Venice. Dolce grew up on a tiny island believing that she was a monster: larger than everyone else, awkward, and ugly. Her mother’s love and her apprenticeship to a mirror-maker were the only solaces in an otherwise lonely world. After Mamma’s death, Dolce leaves home and is taken in by Marin and Bianca, a kind father and daughter who introduce her to Venetian high society, where she is considered beautiful. Though Dolce, soon married to Marin, loves her stepdaughter, Bianca, the girl’s increasing beauty starts to fill her with dread. Through loneliness, obsession, and the strange “dark shimmers” that sometimes overtake her mind, she finds herself changing from a loving wife and stepmother into “The Wicked One.” This is elegantly detailed historical fiction with characters whose anguish cuts straight to the heart. Dolce’s journey from monster to stepmother to monster again, including all of her wonder and fear, is related through Napoli’s characteristic lush prose. Whenever the point of view shifts from Dolce’s struggle against herself to Bianca’s compassionate perspective (or that of her seven small and loyal rescuers), it becomes clear that not all wicked stepmothers were born with evil in their hearts, but that some betrayals go past redemption nonetheless.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Berman

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