A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
Publisher: Tor Dot Com
Publication date: 05 October 2021
Page count: 128 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.
Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.
Fairy tales meet the multiverse? Sign me up.
I’ve always loved fairy tales — it doesn’t matter if they’re the darker, older versions or the sanitised Disney stories — despite their flaws. Alix E. Harrow’s upcoming novella, A Spindle Splintered, is simultaneously a celebration and critique of fairy tales, all while dragging old stories into the modern world. It’s clever and snarky and fun, subverting fairytale tropes and our expectations and shows how two women seize control of their destinies.
Real talk: Sleeping Beauty is the most boring fairy tale. She’s passive (I mean, she’s literally asleep for almost the entire story so it’s not entirely her fault) and she has no agency. Unlike other women who are active in their stories, Sleeping Beauty is really just a pretty prize for the prince to win and not much more. Harrow acknowledges this at the very beginning of the novella, and then manages to inject so much life into the tired (ha ha) story.
I loved the characters in this book and the way they’re their own special subversion of Sleeping Beauty’s classic character. Zinnia is a sparky, sarcastic, modern woman with a serious illness that she has always known will kill her. She uses humour to hide the deep sadness she faces due to her illness. Primrose fits the mould of the classic Sleeping Beauty princess — she’s beautiful and perfect and seems to be the perfect fairy tale princess. These two seem so different, but I loved the way they grew into their friendship and subverted each other’s (and our own) expectations through their adventures.
A Spindle Splintered is a different kind of retelling — one that makes us think critically about fairy tales, how we consume them, ultimately how we can break the mould of our own stories. I cannot recommend this more highly to fans of fairy tales, portal fantasy, or feminist stories. I certainly hope this is the start of a series exploring more fairy tales!
Content warnings: mention of rape (off page), terminal illness, misogyny
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