Especially in the colder months, I’m a sucker for fairy tales. There is something serenely magical about the wind whipping through the mostly-bare trees and leaves skittering along sidewalks in the chilly air. It’s the perfect time for cuddling up to a book full of adventures and curses, spells and a ticking clock. Megan Shepherd’s newest novel, Grim Lovelies, is the quintessential read for such an evening – and you’ll want to read it all in one evening.
Grim Lovelies sets itself in modern day Paris, but manages, through the tropes of magic and an absence of technology, to feel like a classically-set Cinderella tale. I specifically mention Cinderella because there’s something about seventeen-year-old Anouk that echoes the story of glass slippers and pumpkins. Maybe it’s because Anouk is a maid in the house of Paris’s most famed witch, Mada Vittoria; maybe it’s the fact that she is a Beastie – an animal transformed into a human. Much like Cinderella, midnight becomes essential to Anouk. When Mada Vittoria is murdered, Anouk has until midnight on the third day to find a spell to keep her human. If she doesn’t, she and the four other Beasties that Mada Vittoria turned will lose their humanity forever. A literal ticking clock threads through the novel, as each chapter title is a countdown for how much longer Anouk and her friends have left before turning back into animals.
Though set in Paris, with an undercurrent of French phrases, the setting of Grim Lovelies is much richer than simply a city. The Paris we know sets a baseline, but underneath is a writhing world full of Goblins, Royals, and a whole hierarchy of magical creatures. Beasties are only one of the wonderful creations Megan Shepherd introduces; I have never before thought of the inner life of a topiary or a statue, but after this novel have found myself wondering about all the secrets a statue might hold. Shepherd’s Paris is carefully crafted, almost as if it is one of the candlesticks Anouk spends hours polishing. But by novel’s end, this rich world is turned upside down and readers are left questioning what’s next.
For three days of glittering wonder, I highly recommend the bewitching Grim Lovelies, now available in bookstores everywhere.
Megan Shepherd is the acclaimed author of The Madman’s Daughter trilogy, The Cage trilogy, and the middle grade novel The Secret Horses of Briar Hill. She lives and writes on a 125-year-old farm outside Asheville, North Carolina. Visit Megan at meganshepherd.com, on Twitter @megan_shepherd, and on Instagram @meganshepherdauthor.