Book Review: The Grimoire of Kensington Market

That door; it drew her like an enchanted flame. Kyle’s in there! The thought came to her as though someone screamed it. She put her hands over her ears, it was so loud. He’s in there! Open the door! Open it! Open it now! Her bones sang with the knowledge. Kyle was behind that door, and if she had any hope of bringing him home, she was going to have to open it.

The downtown core of Toronto is being consumed by Elysium, a drug that allows its users to slip through the permeable edges of this world and then consumes them utterly. Peddled by the icy Srebrenka, few have managed to escape the drug and its dealer. But Maggie has.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” The Grimoire of Kensington Market is the story of Maggie, guardian of The Grimoire bookstore, which expands and contracts as stories are born . . . or die. Only those who are destined to find The Grimoire enter through its front door. But one day a messenger arrives with a mysterious note that reads, “follow me.” The next day, another note arrives and then another. The messages, Maggie realizes, are from her brother, Kyle, who has fallen under the influence of the Elysium. Kyle has gone too far into the Silver World and needs his sister, a recovering addict herself, to rescue him.

Driven by guilt and love in equal measure, Maggie sets off on a quest where bands of robbers stalk the woods, tavern keepers weave clouds to hide mountains and caribou fly on the Northern Lights. A journey where dreams and the dead both come to life.

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A fairy tale retelling that’s set in Toronto, Ontario? Yes please!

Right off the bat, I was drawn in by the urban fantasy elements of the beginning and as I delved deeper into the book and it grew more fantastical, I was even more hooked.

I’ve actually never read The Snow Queen, but I know the basic story enough to keep up with how Davis’ novel was running parallel with the fairy tale. But, it means I can’t really say how similar or different it is, I just know that I enjoyed it. It felt like a fairy tale, but in a new dark twisty way.

On book I was reminded of while reading this was The Hazel Wood, because of the connections to fairy tales and a more spooky look at them.

Of course, my favourite part of the book is that the main character, Maggie runs an enchanted bookstore that you can only find when you need to. I’m such a sucker for books with bookstores in them.

Davis drew me in with her writing and took me on an adventure through a vast and varied landscape of this magic world. The fantastical setting was written very well and was sometimes easier for me to visualize than the characters. But, I’m a big fan of well-built worlds that almost feel like a character within themselves.

Despite never having been a recovering(ed) addict, Maggie was quite a relatable character and–I don’t know if I’d call her a likeable character–she felt quite real. Her relationship with her brother pulled so much on my heart strings because of what they’d been through, and I looked forward to the final reconciliation that I figured would happen at the end of the novel.

The book did deliver on its fairy tale, everything mostly works out in the end, sort of ending, but the climax left something to be desired. We spend three-quarters of the novel on this adventure to seek out Kyle and save him from his captor. We get there and the big baddy is defeated almost too quickly. Of course there’s a little bit of struggle for Maggie, but the final moments of the villain seemed a bit rushed. I wanted to relish in their defeat a little bit more. I wanted it to pack more of a punch.

All in all, this book checks off a lot of boxes for me. I love a book set in Canada and a fairy tale retelling makes it even better, especially when there’s an enchanted bookstore involved.

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