“A Spindle Splintered” by Alix E Harrow. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2021. 119 pages, $17.99
“A Mirror Mended” by Alix E Harrow. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2022, 130 pages, $18.99
From the series “Fractured Fables”.
Alix Harrow’s two recent novellas are time travel “fractured fairy tales” for adults in which Harrow takes the reader on upended versions of the Grimm fairy tales Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, respectively. The protagonist for this inventive romp is an adventurous 21-year-old folklore aficionado named Zinnia Gray. Zinnia lives in rural Ohio and has been afflicted since childhood with an incurable disease called Generalized Roseville Malady.
Having never expected to live to adulthood, Zinnia is nonplussed by her lack of future plans after an impromptu birthday bash thrown by her best friend, Charm, or Charmian. When she drunkenly pierces her finger on a junk shop spinning wheel used as a party prop, Zinnia ends up transported into the medieval version of Sleeping Beauty in which young Princess Primrose is soon to fall victim to a long, cursed sleep preventing her from marrying young Prince Hal.
Because this is a feminist retelling for modern times, Primrose or Prim turns out to be a lesbian princess who has little interest in Prince Hal. Prim is desperately trying to run away from her scripted story and needs Zinnia’s intervention from outside the story to make it happen.
In the sequel, “A Mirror Mended”, Prim has escaped her fairy tale destiny and become a couple in modern times with Zinnia’s best-friend Charm. Zinnia has injected herself into a number of Sleeping Beauty narratives throughout time and rescued dozens of damsels from their long sleep and is making it her life’s calling. However, she’s getting jaded at being a princess rescuer. Then things switch up and Zinnia looks into a mirror at the face of evil and is transported into a very Gothic version of the Snow White story replete with a nameless evil queen trying to preserve her beauty.
The evil queen, quickly dubbed Eva, turns out to be a foreign-born, barren monarch who has been the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her king for her inability to produce an heir. She feels the restiveness of her subjects and is counting on Zinnia to help her elude her ultimate storybook fate of death by burning while walking over hot coals in iron boots of torture.
Just when you think you knew everything about fairy tales, the Disney version gets thrust aside for darker, more symbolic tales based on the moral values that the Grimm Brothers wanted to transmit to an adult audience. Juxtaposed on top of this is the time-travel format familiar to many from the “Outlander” series for adults and the “The Magic Treehouse” series of books for children. The combination is a potent mix of enjoyable quest and timely message.
Lisa Kobrin is the reference and local history librarian for Alamance County Public Libraries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.