Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

Tags: YA, fantasy, retelling


Don Giovanni, a filthy rich orphan living in 12th-century Italy, has his life turned upside down when a giant wave destroys everything he owns. Friendless and penniless, Don Giovanni wonders the countryside until he meets with the Devil, who offers him a wager he just can’t pass up: the Devil will provide Don Giovanni with a purse that magically produces any amount of money he desires, and in return, Don Giovanni must not clean himself for three years, three months, and three days, otherwise his soul is forfeited.


Fantasy master Donna Jo Napoli has written another awe-inspiring tale that will appeal to appreciators of the beautiful, unusual, and hopeful.

THE WAGER gets off to a rather slow start, but it rewards the patient. It has the feel of a classic fairy tale, which means that characterization is sometimes lacking, favoring instead lush descriptive passages and a sprawling feel to the story. Once Don Giovanni accepts the Devil’s wager, however, the book becomes very hard to put down, as you can’t help wondering just how bad things can get for him.

Don Giovanni starts off as an extremely unlikable fellow. He is self-centered and believes that money can solve anything. So the extent of his character development, and how much we end up liking him, feels like magic in itself. He ends up enduring his trials with as much dignity as a person with open sores and bugs living on his dirty skin can, and I liked him all the more for it.

In the midst of all the fast-paced, nonstop-action speculative YA fiction out there, THE WAGER unassumingly takes its place as a solid work of retold fantasy. Check this out if you’re craving an old-fashioned, trial-of-endurance fairy tale retelling.

Similar Authors
Erin Bow (Plain Kate)

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - It's bold, daring, and challenges you to look at it; I love red and black.

Henry Holt & Co. / April 27, 2010 / Hardcover / 272pp. / $16.99

Personal copy, read for Cybils.


  1. Hmmm, I would not have given this book a second look if you hadn't reviewed it. But you're right, it does sound sort of like a classic fairy tale. So now I want it for my collection. :)

    Thanks for a good review!

  2. I'm glad Donna Jo Napoli is still writing. I love the way she tells stories.

  3. I've always liked Donna Jo Napoli. This book looks promising.


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