"Toads and Diamonds" by Heather Tomlinson

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 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?

From Goodreads

Vastly different from Charles Perrault’s The Fairies, in my opinion, Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson is a much-better version of the tale. For those not familiar with the original, two step-sisters encounter a disguised fairy on separate occasions. The younger of the two is blessed with a gift: Whenever she speaks, flowers and jewels fall from her lips. The eldest isn’t a kind person, so the fairy curses her to spit out snakes and amphibians when she speaks. In traditional fairy tale fashion, the good-hearted, but downtrodden maiden overcomes all while those that put her down get their just rewards. Tomlinson took a fresh look at the original tale and thought, “What if the fairy blessed both sisters?” Both sisters are kind, good-hearted people who honestly love one another despite the fact that they don’t share blood. Some parts of the tale remain consistent: Diribani is blessed with the gift of jewels and flowers, while her stepsister Tana is given the ability to speak snakes and toads. But which is a blessing and which a curse?

Tomlinson sets Toads and Diamonds in India, where snakes are revered. Tana has also received a gift, not a curse, though there are those who flee from what her lips release upon speaking. Many families own house nagas, snakes that eat the rats and keep pestilence from spreading. While outwardly, Diribani has received a priceless gift and releases a small fortune whenever she has something to say, it’s actually a curse in disguise. She’s locked up and kept away from everyone; her jewels line the king’s coffers and a greedy governor wants her for himself. Toads and Diamonds is told in alternating POVs, so readers are able to follow both Diribani and Tana, seeing what becomes of the sisters and their “gifts.”

Overall, Tana was my favorite of the sisters. She’s made of strong mettle and goes through so much agony, while Diribani has a much easier life. Diribani’s story flatlined a bit, and at times, I was eager to get back to Tana’s plight. There was so much heartbreak and misery in her life; Tana was braver than most girls in her situation. As with any other fairy tale, there are also romantic prospects involved, though a relationship is hard for either sister due to their unique gifts. The throne doesn’t want to let go of Diribani’s riches while Tana feels that no one could love a girl who spits venomous snakes. The setting also played an important factor in the book and was a character in and of itself. I loved that Tomlinson modeled her land on a real country, India, and invented two powerful religions that are similar to ones we have in reality, while still being quite unique. Everything fit together well and created a lovely atmosphere not often seen in literature. Combined with an unusual outlook on what constitutes a blessing or a curse, Toads and Diamonds leaves readers with a lot to think about and reflect on.


This is yet another beautiful, eye-catching cover that made me want to pick up the book to find out more. I just want to sit here and stare at it forever. There’s so much symbolism after reading the novel, too. The book takes place in India, which is hinted at through the henna on the model’s skin and the special sari she’s wearing. She’s also wearing golden dowry bracelets, which are mentioned quite a few times in the novel. She’s holding a flower, which represents Diribani, the sister who speaks jewels and flowers. If you look at the sari belt in a certain way, the wrinkle looks a lot like a green and gold snake twining around her, representing Tana, the sister whose lips drips with toads and snakes. I also like the typeface used for the title, not to mention the TITLE itself: Toads and Diamonds. It mentions both sisters, both POVs. It hints at what is to come when the reader picks up the book and looks inside.

The inside design is lovely, too. The start of each chapter looks like this:

Very nice overall design!

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  1. Wonderful review! I'm so glad you liked this book too. I actually did like Diribani, but I think I liked Tana just a tiny bit more. I loved both of their romances and the way the guys loved them for themselves and not their gifts.

  2. I did. Diribani's story wore on me a bit after a while, but never Tana. I did like the way the guys both loved them for THEM despite the jewels and snakes. The romance happened fast, but that's a fairy tale for you! :)


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