I’m not a fan of novella-length work, because it’s not long enough for me to really get into the story and its characters. That said, I’m becoming a big fan of Harrow, having read The Ten Thousand Doors of January and The Once and Future Witches.
A Spindle Splintered is the first of a series of fairy tale retellings and in this one, Harrow takes on probably the hardest fairy tale to modernize — Sleeping Beauty. Harrow begins by telling readers exactly why Sleeping Beauty is the least feminist of the Grimm stories. It’s about a princess who does absolutely nothing until she’s kissed while unconscious. Very few girls would say Sleeping Beauty is their favorite princess — she has no adventures, she just goes into a coma on her birthday.
But Harrow’ protagonist, Zinnia, has always fantasized about Sleeping Beauty. That’s because she has a disease caused by chemicals in the water and she’s never been expected to live past the age of 21. Her best friend, Charm, throws her a Sleeping Beauty-themed birthday party and suddenly Zinnia is thrust into a parallel universe with a princess, an enchanted spinning wheel, and an evil witch.
I enjoyed Harrow’s magical, dream-like writing. I also have to love an author that references classic Arthur Rackham illustrations.
We ride on – we dying girls, we sorry girls, gallows-bound — until the fairy tale spires of Perceforest Castle rise through the trees, gilded by the setting sun.
I don’t know when I start dreaming, or whether it’s a dream at all. What do you call the vast nothing between the pages of the universe? The whisper-thin nowhere-at-all that waits in the place where one story ends and another begins?A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
It’s hard to retell a story that gives you so little to work with, but Harrow brings Sleeping Beauty’s story to life with originality and humor. It’s fun to see how Beauty’s story might have played out across different universes, and I liked the idea of making your own fate rather than accepting the one you’ve been given.
I particularly appreciated the way Harrow gets into Zinnia’s head, showing the mindset of someone who knows they have limited time. Zinnia has created a lot of rules for herself, like not wasting time and no romance. She also has a complicated relationship with her parents, which I imagine anyone with a serious illness can relate to (guilt for what you’re doing to them, frustration when they’re too protective).
If you love fairy tale retellings, I recommend this one. Otherwise, I’d recommend The Once and Future Witches, which has a lot more depth of character and story.
Note: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Macmillan-Tor/Forge. This book published October 5, 2021.