The Grimoire of Kensington Market
Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo, Wolsak and Wynn, Audible
Published by: Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd
Release Date: October 16, 2018
The downtown core of Toronto is being consumed by Elysium, a drug that allows its users to slip through the permeable edges of this world into the next, before consuming them utterly. Peddled by the icy Srebrenka, few have managed to escape the drug and its dealer. But Maggie has.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," and woven through with northern folk tales, The Grimoire of Kensington Market is the story of Maggie, proprietor of the Grimoire bookstore, the cosmic nexus of all the world's tales. Years after beating her addiction, Maggie is dismayed by the reappearance of Srebrenka in her life. Although she resists temptation, she quickly learns that her brother, Kyle, has been ensnared by Srebrenka's beguiling.
Driven by guilt and love, Maggie sets off on a quest to rescue Kyle from the Silver World, where robbers stalk the woods, tavern keepers weave clouds to hide mountains and caribou race along the northern lights. There, she must discover what strengths lie within her.
"One of the Best Books of 2018!" - The Globe & Mail
"Imagine downtown Toronto transformed into a fairytale world, a city where streets contract at will and charmless laneways contain portals into magic underworlds. Now picture a tiny bookshop hidden on a side street in Kensington Market, crammed with books that glow like neon. You’ll get a feel for the kind of shape-shifting landscape Lauren B. Davis conjures in her latest novel, The Grimoire of Kensington Market.
Maggie is a recovering addict, one of the few surviving “pipers” ravaged by the mind-altering drug elysium. Her brother Kyle is less fortunate. He’s in thrall to Srebrenka, the evil and powerful ice queen who controls the local drug trade. When Maggie — now living a quiet life as the proprietor of the magical bookshop — receives a call for help from her missing brother, she must make an agonizing decision. Should she descend through the dark underworld to confront Srebrenka and rescue Kyle, even at the risk of sliding back into the grips of elysium herself?
In this compelling novel, Davis manages several feats at once. At heart, it’s the sort of dark fairytale inspired by Hans Christian Andersen. In Davis’ altered world, we meet a crone named Mother Ratigan, a pair of cloaked ravens, and a family of castaway thieves living in the gloom of a decrepit manor house. Time and again, Maggie is left to her own devices, with only a few magical aids at her disposal. By relying on her own wisdom and intuition, Maggie’s quest is a deeply moral tale. At pivotal moments in the narrative, she is forced to name and confront her past, unpacking her childhood back story of trauma and neglect. Davis does a fine job balancing these fraught moments of tension with lighter, magical scenes, such as her various luxurious sleepovers at mystical hotels and loving monologues with her canine sidekick Badger.
Beneath the fairytale lies a probing exploration of the current opioid crisis. Davis highlights how the collapse of social supports and the marginalization of addicts creates the perfect storm, hollowing out inner-city Toronto and leaving wounded orphans and ruined lives in its wake. When Maggie reaches her final destination to confront Srebrenka, the author spins the kinds of pyrotechnics appropriate to the climax of such a dramatic quest.
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 Market such a timely and important read."
-The Toronto Star
"The Grimoire of Kensington Market is a powerful fantasia for those adult daydreamers and bibliophiles who, as C.S. Lewis foretold, are now old enough to start reading fairy tales again." - Canadian Notes and Queries, Fall 2018
Review by Sarah O’Connor
Fairy tales speak to readers, no matter what age. Maybe it’s the magic of them - the talking flowers, animal companions, and daring quests that add some imaginary excitement into our lives. Maybe it’s the inherent darkness that has always been present at their core no matter how many people try to scrub it away: the mothers who die and the evil stepmothers who replace them, the wolf lurking in the woods and bed, the stranger who pretends to be kind. Maybe it’s the belief that we can be brave and fight the darkness that life throws at us, regardless of how hopeless it may seem.
Fairy-tale adaptions, especially in adult fiction, allow readers to escape into the strange innocence of fairy tales while relating to adult topics and conflicts. After all, “That’s what a story is: a kind of spell we cast over our lives, and the lives of those close to us, it’s the effect we have on our world and the effect that world has on us.” Lauren B. Davis achieves this effect in her new novel The Grimoire of Kensington Market by using a fairy-tale adaption to tell a story about familial love, guilt, and drug abuse.
When thinking of fairy-tale adaptions and metaphors of drug abuse, one might think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, long associated and overanalyzed as a story about drug abuse. Davis, however, frames her story with a different fairy tale – Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen – adapting it to discuss drug abuse and addiction, partly inspired by her own brother’s death by suicide.
The Grimoire of Kensington Market follows Maggie, the current owner of the Grimoire, a strange and magical bookshop that holds the world’s stories and appears to those who need it. Recently rehabilitated from the dangerous drug Elysium, which has infiltrated downtown Toronto and sends users into an irresistible dream state, Maggie enjoys her quiet life at the Grimoire reading books and helping the few patrons who manage to find the shop. But one day Maggie’s old dealer Srebrenka returns and tries to tempt Maggie back on the pipe. Though Maggie refuses, she learns that her addict brother Kyle needs her help, and she’ll have to travel to the Silver World of Elysium and Srebrenka to do it.
Davis’s novel tackles drug abuse in a beautifully heartbreaking and honest way that also manages to discuss guilt, acceptance, and responsibility without the story feeling clunky. These issues and topics are discussed through the lens of magic. The magic in Davis’s novel is already a very real part of the world that Maggie is more than familiar with it. She knows how dark magic can be through her experience with Elysium, how it twists and turns and can pretend to be beautiful. Throughout the novel, Maggie learns of its many faces, how it can be destructive and addictive as it was for herself and her brother, but also lovely and healing, depending on how one interacts with it.
And therein lies the heart of Davis’s story: the weight of the choices we make, and our responsibility to accept their consequences. Maggie comes to acknowledge her own guilt for her brother’s condition and their responsibility for the choices they’ve made in life. As Maggie comes to recognize in the novel, “We are all responsible for the mess in the world, and we are all responsible for cleaning it up. It’s not either-or, is it? It’s both-and. We harm and we heal.”
The Grimoire of Kensington Market is a stunning novel and a great experimentation with magical realism. Davis brings readers into this genre flawlessly, using a purely Canadian-flavoured magical realism that makes the novel unique among Canadian literature and other fairy-tale adaptions. Readers won’t be able to help but fall under its spell, because the Grimoire only appears to those who are meant to find it, and if you’re lucky that will be you. - The Hamilton Literary Review
"The Grimoire of Kensington Market follows Maggie, a recovering addict who manages The Grimoire bookstore. Fantastical elements form the fabric of this novel that is part fairy tale, part junkie odyssey as the space of the bookstore transforms according to the stories that move through it. After receiving mysterious notes, Maggie decides to follow their trail and discovers that they’re from her brother, who has been using Elysium, an all-consuming drug that blurs the boundaries between worlds. The sense of adventure and local flair reminds us of Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill, making this one of the more inventive and genre-bending books this fall. The Grimoire of Kensington Market is a total trip."
- All Lit Up, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Oct. 26, 2018
"Davis confidently paints a magical world rich in detail, where human trials unfold against a fairy-tale tapestry, weaving a fresh legend from a mosaic of ancient stories, she creates a bold new world where wit equals witchery and kindness is as valued as courage." - John C. Foster, Author of Mister White
"Toronto is in the grips of a drug called Elysium, which sends its users past the edges of the world. Recovering addict Maggie is the proprietor of a magical bookstore called The Grimoire and one day begins to receive notes that say simply "follow me." Maggie comes to realize that the notes are from her brother Kyle, whose Elysium addiction has taken him deep into the Silver World."
-24 works of Canadian fiction to watch for this fall, CBC Books
"Lauren's book makes the list of "campus novels, literary homages, and historical imaginings." Reading these recommended books will make you feel like a student again."
-The Syllabus: Back-to-School Books for Grownups, 49th Shelf
"In this book, Hans Christian Andersen's tale "The Snow Queen," inspired Davis' modern fairytale/fable about Toronto being consumed by elysium, a drug that allows users to enter another world. Plus it’s got caribou racing along the Northern Lights."
-25 books that are going to make a splash this fall, The Toronto Star
"Lauren B. Davis’s The Grimoire of Kensington Market is a fairy tale for our time, where addiction meets magic, with all the dark lessons and startling characters of age-old folk tale and myth."
-Most Anticipated: Our 2018 Fall Fiction Preview, 49th Shelf
"A Toronto bookstore proprietor goes on a mystical adventure in a novel that uses fairy-tale devices as a metaphor for addiction. As a new designer drug, Elysium spreads throughout the downtown core, the novel's protagonist must follow a series of mysterious messages from her brother, who passed over beyond the edge of the known world into a shadowland of flying caribou and magical tavern owners."
-Fiction, Novel Effects, Quill & Quire
People didn’t wander into the Grimoire. It wasn’t that sort of bookshop. People found it by some force even Maggie, the proprietor, didn’t understand. If one was meant to find the shop, one did, otherwise it was unnoticeable. Alvin, the nephew of the former proprietor, Mr. Mustby, came as he pleased, as did Mr. Strundale, who ran the Wort & Willow Apothecary a few doors down, but on the other hand, Maggie’s brother, Kyle, had never found his way, and she wasn’t about to invite him.