Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher's daughter, has escaped death twice--first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability--she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.
Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all. But Emmeline only wants one--Owen Oak, a dairyman's son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself. But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains--no matter what the cost to Emmeline.
Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all. Quoted from Goodreads
This story is, in a word, sweet. It's a retelling of the Ugly Duckling, emphasis on retelling, but instead of ducks and swans, you get cows. Now I grew up on a farm with cows, and when anyone in the book calls them stupid or slow, I absolutely agree with them. Still, they do save Emmeline's life in the beginning and give her a gift that changes her world, so I put aside the silliness, and really enjoyed the story.
The story sounds sort of simple, and like most fairy tales, it kind of is, but not as much as you might think. The author does a great job of world building. It starts in the flatlands, which is, as the name suggests, flat, poor, and on the fringes of society. Then she goes to Wonder, meets, Owen, and realizes how prosperous the rest of the world really is. From there we get to see the sea-side, the mines, and eventually the palace, but it's not just the places. There are all sorts of inequality, corruption, kindness, and greed. I especially like all the different versions of history Emmaline has to sort through to find the truth.
The characters are, with one of two exceptions, multi-dimensional. Not, just Emmaline and Owen, though, I loved them both, but Emmaline's father, Griffin, the Peddler, and even Henry (the one eyed man). I liked Emmaline as a main character. She is spunky and willing to push through all the hardships she is confronted by. Owen is adorable. I especially liked that he wasn't the drop dead gorgeous guy that Emmaline started the story liking. Instead, he's sort of the boy next door. Lots of girls like him, but he is realistic.
The book moves pretty quickly. Just as I got settled in one place, something would happen to switch things up. I was thrown for a minute when Owen's point of view suddenly appeared, but I liked it (so now you are warned, there are two points of view in this book. Be prepared). It helped increase the tension, because now you have two main characters to worry about. Plus it's fun to meet the same people from two different points of view. Don't get me wrong, Griffin will always remind me of a redheaded Gaston (though he becomes much more sympathetic then that character ever did), but I liked seeing him from a girl's point of view vs. a guy's.
Now to address the chocolate issue. It sounds silly to say chocolate is worth more than gold, especially today. In fact, this is kind of what kept me from reading this weeks ago. But. This is the part of the story where you have to suspend your disbelief and remember this is a different world, a world with magic, and, apparently, no cocoa beans. The thing about the chocolate is, it doesn't really come across as regular chocolate. I'll happily admit that eating chocolate makes me happy, but it seems to do a bit more than that in this story. Not only is the chocolate magic, but it seems to make people happy more than chocolate here. And, really, in a world that only has access to chocolate through one girl, you can see how greed could make or destroy Emmaline.
This book is a delightful 3.5 stars. It's a fun, light read, built upon the bones of the ugly duckling story, but it's so much more. There were elements of Rumplestiltskin, but mostly it came off as it's own, fresh new fairy tale, and I really liked that.