Review of The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

The Wager

The Wager

I really like the cover of this one. It really stood out to me on the library shelf. The red and black combination does stand out especially if it’s sitting on the shelf by itself. Whoever positions these books at the local library really know what they’re doing, because it certainly caught my eye.

Don Giovanni was once the wealthiest and handsomest young man in Messina. Then a tidal wave changed everything. When a well-dressed stranger offers him a magical purse, he knows he shouldn’t take it. Only the devil would offer a deal like this, and only a fool would accept. Don Giovanni is no fool, but he is desperate. He takes the bet: he will not bathe for 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days. Beauty is a small price to pay for worldly wealth, isn’t it? Unless he loses the wager—and with it his soul. (From

I thought this book was a great combination between a Faustian deal with a fairy tale mixed in. There is an author’s note provided at the end of the book which explains that the story was based on a Sicilian fairy tale and even goes as far as to summarize the entire fairy tale and what happens to the characters in it. I’d have to say I prefer Napoli’s version of the tale. It’s much more happier and it has a great feel good ending.

The concept of the story was interesting, although it sounded pretty gross that Don Giovanni couldn’t bathe for such a long time.  Naturally as the story progresses, he gets tempted to wash and bathe but stays clear of the temptations. What I liked about the book, was suddenly Giovanni finds himself among the “commoners” and not with his peers (his peers in fact, ignore him or treat him like dirt). It’s an eye opener to him as he had the ego the size of a house in the beginning of the book. This provides great character development where he goes from being a selfish arrogant egotistical noble, to a simple man who develops friendships and acquaintances with villagers, peasants, farmers, and street urchins. That being said, I really did enjoy reading about Giovanni and his character development.

There are graphic depictions of how dirty Giovanni is. I mean really really dirty. Like open sores and pustules dirty. It’s gross, but you could say it’s very well written if it gets a reaction from the reader. However the plot is clear and evenly paced and the descriptions of various scenes are excellent and can be pictured easily. I’d also have to say the little twist in the end, where the mysterious artist appears and their identity was revealed, was a nice little surprise and I thought it added a very nice touch to the ending.

I thought it was a great retelling of an old fairy tale and will be looking for more of Napoli’s works. It’s a wonderful plot, Don Giovanni turns out to be likable and it’s great ‘happily ever after’ story. Give this one a try, it’s unique and different and a very enjoyable read.

I give it a 9 out of 10.


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