The Grimoire of Kensington Market by Lauren B. Davis

I read The Grimoire of Kensington Market a few weeks ago, and am only just now getting to write about it. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the kind of book that fades quickly. The images I took in as I read are still dancing around in my head.

In the meantime, I’ve also had the chance to read a couple of good reviews of the book, as well as listen to a short interview, which have helped me appreciate the book even more, and which I will provide links to at the bottom of my post.

The Grimoire of Kensisngton Market is inspired by two things: 1) The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, in which there is a magic mirror that shows all things beautiful as ugly and all things ugly as beautiful, the shards of which get embedded into people’s eyes and hearts. An apt metaphor for addiction. 2) The death, by suicide, of Lauren B. Davis’s two brothers, both of whom suffered from addiction.

“Putting that story into the realm of the mythical allowed me to examine my feelings and, story being a magical thing, transform the facts into something healing.”

The Grimoire is a bookshop in Toronto, a magical bookshop, that expands and contracts as needed, and only shows itself to those who are destined to enter the shop. (“People didn’t wander into the Grimoire. It wasn’t that sort of a bookshop.“)

Maggie is one of the fortunate ones who was allowed entry into the bookshop, right when she needed it. She had been addicted to a new and powerful drug called Elysium, one that when smoked, took the “piper” away to a “silver world” that they would want to return to again and again. Elysium could be found in a part of the city called “The Forest”, and lately The Forest had been expanding, taking up more space, leaving less for the rest of the city. Pipers had been coming and staying, abandoning their jobs, their lives, and even their children.

But the pleasures of Elysium come with a price.

It burrowed into your darkest crannies – your memories, your heart – and found the things you regretted most, the things you feared, the things of which you were ashamed, and dragged them out into the world, first in dreams, and then in hallucinations.

Maggie is the only person known to have broken herself of the addiction – the bookshop and its proprietor being a big part of her success. But now she is getting messages from her brother, also an Elysium addict, asking for her help. In order to help him, she needs to be willing to put herself at risk of falling back under the powerful pull of the drug.

What follows is a fantastical adventure, dark and alluring. For the child in us, there are flying caribou and talking flowers, roads that roll up behind you and a palace of snow and ice. The talking flowers made me think of Alice in Wonderland, and the villain in her carriage reminded me of the White Witch in Narnia.

This world is about things that tell the truth, although perhaps not the facts.

But this villain is not giving out Turkish Delight – she is peddling a powerful drug. And Maggie is not in Wonderland, but on a dangerous mission to rescue her brother. And this is not just a fairy tale with talking animals and happily ever afters, it’s an exploration about the power of addiction – how it can alter your relationships and take over your life.

She is an envious, restless, irritable, and discontent soul. Always wants what isn’t good for her or anybody else and is never satisfied. She is, to be blunt, nothing but a bottomless pit of insatiable hunger, the essence of addiction.

Further Reading:

I have loved everything I’ve read by Lauren B. Davis. Ones I have read and reviews on my blog are Our Daily Bread, The Empty Room, Against A Darkening Sky, and The Radiant City.

The Temz Review: “It reminds us that the space inside a book shop can be larger than it appears because a single story is large enough to hold many readers. Lauren B. Davis’ The Grimoire of Kensington Market is an enchantment, a forgiveness, and an entertainment.

The Toronto Star: “Davis takes creative risks here and Maggie is a likeable and familiar character. But it’s her deft handling of the ravages of addiction that makes The Grimoire of Kensington Marketsuch a timely and important read.”

Interview on The Next Chapter: “Under that adventure tale there is this idea of the power of story and the power of our connection to the other person.”

*Thanks to Wolsak and Wynn for providing me with a review copy of this book! All quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof.

33 thoughts on “The Grimoire of Kensington Market by Lauren B. Davis

    • Lauren B. Davis says:

      Honestly, it’s less about THE SNOW QUEEN than it is about addiction, and our responsibility to those we love, especially when they’re behaving, em, badly. I used the metaphor of the mirror in the Snow Queen, which, if you remember makes everything beautiful look ugly and everything ugly look beautiful. Since addiction is a disease of perception (that’s what those of us in recovery say), it seemed perfect! I am intrigued by this Joan D. Vinge book. Must look it up. Thanks!

      • Lauren B. Davis says:

        Naomi, yes, absolutely. The mirror metaphor, the structure.. but definitely not a re-telling of the tale. And btw… your support means a great deal to me.

      • Alexandra says:

        Ah, that makes more sense then. It would have been better not to mention The Snow Queen as dupes like me then try to make an association. My bad. And yes, Vinge does a science fantasy retelling of the snow queen story.

      • Lauren B. Davis says:

        Alexandra — well, I felt I had to, as it does use that mirror, and the same structure of seven used by Andersen. Would be rude not to. Not your bad at all.

    • Naomi says:

      Just looked it up… Joan D. Vinge’s book is actually called The Snow Queen! That’s probably a book that *I* wouldn’t read. Funny!
      I just know by now that I will like anything Lauren B. Davis writes. 🙂

      • Alexandra says:

        Funny to see that you can read Davis who, by default, has written a novel with fantastical elements that would definitely fall into the genre: fantasy. Yet state you wouldn’t read Vinge for the very same elements? 😉

      • Naomi says:

        I know… I agree! I think, in this case, I’ve read several other books by Lauren and have loved all of them. So I feel I can trust her to write a good story no matter what it’s about, or what genre it’s in!

  1. annelogan17 says:

    Oh this does sound like a nice read, I think I’d enjoy it. And how timely indeed! Hopefully, by framing addiction in this fantastical like book (very unique!) people may begin to see addiction in a different way, rather than something ‘weak people fall into’ which I suspect lots of bias comes from.

  2. suroor alikhan says:

    It sounds fascinating. I’m putting it on my to-read list. I love the way some writers use fantasy to talk about real-life issues.

  3. buriedinprint says:

    Because I had successfully avoided all the press and media for the title before reading, and because I’m fuzzy on source material, I actually thought she was alluding to the Narnia scene in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I even pulled my girlhood copy from the shelf to reread. And t wasn’t until I was investigating Lewis’ inspiration for that character that I realized (some of) what was going on, with the connections to and around the fairy tale with Grimoire. What I love about all of that is the archetypal sense that these are timeless stories – too much fantasy for some readers or not enough for others, it doesn’t matter so much in the end – we all recognize timeless themes and they resonate with us at a deeper level (with or without Turkish Delight).

      • buriedinprint says:

        It, too, was “The Snow Queen” if I recall correctly. That scene! I was scared to bits by it as a girl. Because of course I would have wanted the treat.

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