Decades after the incident in the woods, Gretel has forged a good life in a small village, running a bakery and taking care of her brother and the stray, bedraggled women who find work as her apprentices. Business is good, and when it’s not, Gretel took more from the witch than a knack of making sweet treats and gingerbread, just as her brother returned home forever changed by the torture he experienced.
The book of magic hidden beneath the stairs has kept Gretel and her household comfortable for years, but it also calls to Gretel in the night, demanding she return to the woods and replace the witch they killed. For years, she’s been resisting, determined to keep Hansel and her apprentices safe.
Then Hansel’s drinking goes too far and Gretel realises her brother is dying. Finally, the seductive call of the book’s magic might be too strong to deny…
Burnt Sugar follows the well-known Grimm fairytale characters Hansel and Gretel in the decades after their abandonment in the forest, and stumbling on the witch’s cottage. The tale of Gretel’s servitude to the witch while Hansel rotted behind bars. That is where the familiar tale we know ends and a new reimagined one begins.
Gretel is now an older woman and her brother Hansel a town-thug and drunkard. After what they both endured in the Witch’s cottage, the siblings have gone down two very different paths in life. Gretel manages a bakery and is haunted by memories of burning the witch alive so she and her brother might escape. Stranger still is the book of witchcraft she stole from the cottage and the gems that frequently appear. In a town that is hard on the poor and wretched, Gretel adopts those she can and provides handouts for those she can’t – the memory of being a starving unwanted child one that is still fresh.
Burnt Sugar is an intriguing “what if” novella that offers a conclusion to the tale of Hansel and Gretel. There are some aspects which are unanswered – such as the hands that push at Gretel’s back – reminiscent of the witch’s own ending. Whether this is deliberately unexplained or not it is unclear. Regardless, this is a deeply emotional and thought provoking idea of what might have happened once two children expected lost to the forest, stumbled back to their village and how their lives would have altered from the experience.
A fascinating literary reimagining of the Grimm’s fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. Definitely worth reading for those who enjoy a historical fantasy. A solid fairytale reimagining for those curious to know what might happened after Hansel and Gretel escaped the witch and the forest.