by Alix E. Harrow
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted September 29, 2021
1. A Spindle Splintered / 2. A Mirror Mended (next year)
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I received an advance copy of this title from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. A Spindle Splintered will be released next week, October 5. I was going to use that title for this page, but before I finished reading I learned that Alix E. Harrow's reworking of the Sleeping Beauty story is just the first of a series titled Fractured Fables, the second title of which will be published next June. It's just a novella, a quick and enjoyable read, but I'm not sure if the next one will be as short. Anyone from my generation, or even younger, may remember the "Fractured Fairy Tales" segment on The Bullwinkle Show. Those were a satirical look at stories we already knew so well. Harrow's take might not be considered satirical, but it is definitely irreverent. Zinnia Gray, the first person narrator, starts by declaring, "Sleeping Beauty is pretty much the worst fairy tale, any way you slice it."
Sleeping Beauty holds a particular fascination for Zinnia, since she is under the curse of an incurable disease, named Generalized Roseville Malady, after an environmental disaster in her home town that resulted in genetic birth defects. Her parents have been stoically supportive and hopeful of an eventual cure, but no one suffering from GRM has reached the age of twenty-two. Zinnia starts her story on her twenty-first birthday, the evening of which she spends with her best friend, Charmaine Baldwin, at their castle tower (actually a guard tower at a nearby decommissioned state penitentiary). Charm surprises her with a gift obtained from an antique store, a spinning wheel. Zinnia is at first appalled at Charm's poor taste, but eventually succumbs to taunts to prick her finger on the spindle. Before she can do that, she sees visions of other girls in the same predicament, one of whom is a very beautiful blonde, dressed as if a true princess, including tiara, and obviously in a genuine stone castle tower. Even though Zinnia cannot hear her, she knows the word on the other girl's lips is "Help." Reaching out for the spindle, Zinnia next finds herself in a bed in that castle, in a room with that beautiful blonde, whose name she learns is Primrose.
There is a reason fairy tales remain popular. They speak to issues that still resonate today, while at the same time they are being viewed and reworked from a modern perspective. Most people know the Disney versions, and may know they are generally based on stories by the Brothers Grimm, but even the Grimms were working from older works, many of which probably began as oral tales handed down through the ages before Charles Perrault wrote his stories over a century before the Grimms. One of the earliest versions of Sleeping Beauty, under the title Perceforest, and dating from at least the 14th Century, tells of the lovers Troylus and Zelladine. Zinnia cautions the reader not to google Zelladine, but I ignored that. One major difference in that story is that Troylus awakens his princess not just with a chaste kiss, if you catch my drift. Primrose lives in the kingdom of Perceforest, and has lived under the spectre of her curse for as long as she can remember. A major difference between Primrose and the Grimm's Briar Rose, or Disney's Aurora, is a determination to beat that fate. She can't help it that she falls under a spell at night, compelled to go to the tower, but during the day she schemes for ways to fight back. She is indifferent to the prince to whom she is betrothed, and Zinnia thinks she knows the major reason for that.
It doesn't take long for Zinnia to realize Primrose is not the shy and subservient girl from the stories. She is resentful of her lot in life, not wanting her fate to be tied to the whims of her father the king, or her intended husband the prince. She is also not physically weak, knowledgeable in the use of sword and knife, and an accomplished equestrian. With Zinnia's help, Primrose decides to venture into the forest in search of the witch who cursed her. There they find Zelladine, whose story is quite different than what they had assumed, and who gives them much needed information. They return to the castle with the intention of defying the curse and the king's wishes. I enjoyed this, while at the same time I foresaw several of the plot points well in advance. An interesting view on women taking charge of their lives and defying custom, most especially denying the patriarchy, which is the primary fault of most fairy tales. I don't want to reveal Zinnia's fate, but it is one thing that was not as expected. However, it should come as no surprise that Primrose eventually meets her Charming. Or I should say, her Charmaine. Recommended.
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