Hello everybody. Today’s post is a spoiler free review of Tori Bovalino’s YA Fantasy Horror novel Not Good for Maidens, followed by an interview with the author. This post is also part of a book tour organized by TBR And Beyond Tours. You’ll find more information about the tour at the end of this post, as well as links to all of the other blogs that are also participating in it.
Content Warning: on-page gore, on-page body horror, violence, trauma
Rep: Sapphic, Asexual, Bisexual
Lou never believed in superstitions or magic – until her teenage aunt Neela is kidnapped to the goblin market.
The market is a place Lou has only read about – twisted streets, offerings of sweet fruits and incredible jewels. Everything – from the food and wares, to the goblins themselves – is a haunting temptation for any human who manages to find their way in.
Determined to save Neela, Lou learns songs and spells and tricks that will help her navigate this dangerous world and slip past a goblin’s defenses – but she only has three days to find Neela before the market disappears and her aunt becomes one of them forever.
If she isn’t careful, the market might just end up claiming her too.
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My review of Not Good for Maidens
Not Good for Maidens is such an immersive book, full of lush eeriness and deliciously dark fairytale and folklore elements. The Goblin Market might be full of danger and its fair share of gore, but readers won’t be able to look away due to the enchanting prose and unforgettable characters.
The story is mainly told from Lou’s POV, with May’s story sprinkled through it gradually over the course of the book. One of my favorite aspects of the book was witnessing all the women in the story go on their own journeys of self-discovery and grow into themselves. Lou’s character development in particular was absolutely awesome. The book also focuses a lot on family and the bond between these women, which I really enjoyed.
The romance was also handled very well and was balanced nicely against the darker aspects of the story. The book also features beautiful portrayals of sapphic love and asexuality, which I also appreciated.
If you love dark fairy tale retellings, especially with a queer or sapphic take, definitely check this book out!
Interview with Tori Bovalino
QaS: Not Good for Maidens is your second published novel. Congrats! How was the writing experience different compared to that of your debut novel The Devil Makes Three?
TB: Thank you! It was different in that, apart from writing the first few chapters, I knew the whole time I was working on Maidens that it would turn into a real book at the end! That was both more and less pressure at the end—more, because no matter how good or bad it was, people were going to read it, and less because it didn’t feel so much like shouting into the void. There was a clear goal, a directive, and a certainty that it would happen!
QaS: What drew you to The Goblin Market as an inspiration for this retelling?
TB: I think, like most kids, I was a bit entranced by the poem when I read it in high school. Let’s face it: it’s a weird poem. There’s something unsavory and unique about it in comparison to all of the other literature we were reading. It’s messy, and the conclusion to the poem just never felt right to me, so I wanted to go in and unpack it using the lens of a queer feminist perspective and evaluate the relationships between women.
QaS: In the original poem by Christina Rossetti, it is two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, who come across the Goblin Market. In Not Good for Maidens though, we follow the multigenerational story of the different women of the same family, as their lives get entwined with the Market. What inspired you to give this retelling a more multigenerational spin?
TB: I’m very close to the women in my family, possibly because there are so many of us! I have a sister, my mom has four sisters, and my grandma played a huge role in my life—I’m very lucky to have close family on both sides, and just the interactions and relationships between those women inspired me when taking on this poem. It’s dedicated to my late grandmother, my sister, and my aunt, because it always felt like those were the three people I was constantly orbiting as a child.
QaS: In Not Good for Maidens we discover a Goblin Market which is as dark as it is treacherous. What were your favorite aspects of the Market to write about, and what did you find the most challenging about it?
TB: I tend to like leaning into the horror elements, so that was very fun to examine. I absolutely loved Rebecca Schaeffer’s Not Even Bones and so that idea of a weird body market appealed to me (though Not Even Bones is much more ruthless than Not Good for Maidens, and if you haven’t read it, you absolutely should). I really loved doing a deep dive into the feminist and queer perspectives on The Goblin Market, and particularly how the relationship between sisters is critically dissected. Two articles that I used to conceptualize the relationship between Laura and May were Heroic Sisterhood in ‘Goblin Market’ by Dorothy Mermin and The Potential of Sisterhood: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ by Janet Galligani Casey.
Though I focused primarily on feminist and queer readings of The Goblin Market as influences for Not Good for Maidens, a difficulty in writing this adaptation was working to identify and subvert the ignorant and uninclusive aspects of Rossetti’s original lore within the poem The Goblin Market, which does contain antisemitic elements. There is quite a bit of critical analysis of representations within The Goblin Market, but for retellings that confront and untangle those ideas directly, I’d recommend readers check out Seanan McGuire’s In An Absent Dream and Rena Rossner’s Sisters of the Winter Wood.
QaS: Would you like to write more YA retellings of classic horror stories in the future? What about a retelling of Dorian Gray for example, which you list as one of your favs?
TB: I would LOVE to do a retelling of Dorian Gray. My best friend from childhood and I have the sweeping idea to do a Dorian musical but neither of us has any knowledge about how to write a musical, so that idea is tabled for a while.
But yeah, I love retellings. I’m particularly drawn to folklore, so I think there will be a lot of that in my future. Folklore is historically quite dark, so the horror-esque roots of those stories are already planted. I’d love to tap into more folk horror in the near future, particularly examining some of the tales that have come out of my little corner of Pennsylvania. Perhaps a story with a tinge of Orpheus and Eurydice, since I’ve been listening to Hadestown nonstop too! Also, I’m poking at an idea for adult horror in the vein of The Secret History and House of Leaves, but that has more to do with academia than anything else!
About the author
Tori Bovalino grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and never knew she wanted to live abroad until she was already in London. She’s awful at picking favorites, but her consistent go-to books are Pride and Prejudice, Fire, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. She’s enamored with books that make her cry.
Tori holds a BA in English fiction writing and anthropology and a minor in German from the University of Pittsburgh and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. She is currently on the Creative and practice-based PhD course at RHUL, researching the relationship between Russian folklore and YA fantasy novels. In her free time, Tori enjoys reading (duh), embroidering, and traveling.
You can follow Tori online at the following:
Click here to check out all the other blogs that are also participating in this book tour.
I’m just hearing more about this book and I need to check it out! Great review!
Brilliant review – I love that you talked with Bovalino as-well, that’s amazing! Super interesting. I got an arc from NetGalley (the cover was too good to miss!) and I totally agree, the family aspect and the gory goblin market was so interesting! I loved Neela and Lou’s relationship. It’s a pretty gruesome book but I still enjoyed it – and agree with literally everything you said haha. I talk more about the gore and why it feels to me like more of a thriller than horror in my review here: https://hundredsandthousandsofbooks.blog/2022/09/20/arc-review-not-good-for-maidens/ 😊