Colleen Mondor Reviews The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl

The Grimrose Girls, Laura Pohl (Sourcebooks Fire 978-1-7282-2887-7, $10.99, tp, 400pp) November 2021.

Laura Pohl’s The Grimrose Girls is set in an elite, extra gothic-y, boarding school in Switzerland where three classmates are reeling from the recent death of their best friend, Ariane. It is no surprise that Ella, Yuki, and Rory are unsettled by the loss and deeply suspi­cious of the circumstances surrounding Ariane’s drowning. So, following in the footsteps of a long line of girl detectives before them, they set out to determine what really happened. In this dark academia/fairy tale mash-up, Pohl has more up her sleeve than crime solving, and a careful read of the Brothers Grimm is likely a welcome com­panion when embarking on this twisty mystery.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Grimrose Académie is host to a lot of secrets. (From its earliest descriptions in the text, it is clearly built for secrets.) Joined by a new classmate who has been assigned to Ariane’s room, and arrives with some secrets of her own, the girls start looking into the history of disturbing student deaths and discover a disconcerting pattern that has been weirdly ignored by everyone. Ella, who lives with her demanding stepmother and two stepsisters in town where she is burdened by an enormous amount of household chores (don’t make me spell it out for you), becomes immersed in finding out what trouble Ariane was involved in prior to her death. After a book of fairy tales is found with Ariane’s annotations, the investigating ramps up dramatically, but so do the bodies, including those of sibling classmates who are found after following a candy trail. (Yes, they are a brother and sister.) Is the school cursed? Are certain students cursed? Who is doing the cursing? And what fairy tales are stalking our heroes?

FYI – the original Grimm fairy tales are grim. GRIM.

Pohl does a great job of weaving fairytale im­agery into an otherwise modern school story, and it’s a lot of fun to figure out who is who and what that might mean to the plot. I struggled to keep the different characters straight, however, and narrative cohesion was sometimes lost. Various relationships are formed between the girls and other classmates, but most seemed undeveloped and extraneous to the plot to me. The mystery also occasionally gets lost in the relationship dramas, slowing down necessary momentum. But The Grimrose Girls sets up decently for a sequel and the fairytale hook is unique enough to keep readers coming back for more. Pohl has created a devious playground in this book, and has plenty of room to run with it in the future.

Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website:

This review and more like it in the March 2022 issue of Locus.

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