A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

This delightful little book brought to us once again by Liz. In this, the first in the Fractured Fables series, Alix E. Harrow retells the story of Sleeping Beauty in winning fashion, set in a recognizable modern Ohio but with a portal into magical realms, featuring various strong female and queer characters and general reclamation. It’s dedicated to “everyone who deserves a better story than the one they have,” and feels like a perfect response to the Toni Morrison quotation: “if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” A Spindle Splintered is just a novella at a hair over 100 pages, and I’m thoroughly entranced; I’ve already preordered book 2 in the series (A Mirror Mended), which should ship to me in June from Gaslight Books.

Sleeping Beauty is pretty much the worst fairy tale, any way you slice it.

It’s aimless and amoral and chauvinist as shit. It’s the fairy tale that feminist scholars cite when they want to talk about women’s passivity in historical narratives. (“She literally sleeps through her own climax,” as my favorite gender studies professor used to say. “Double entendre fully intended.”)…

Even among the other nerds who majored in folklore, Sleeping Beauty is nobody’s favorite. Romantic girls like Beauty and the Beast; vanilla girls like Cinderella; goth girls like Snow White.

Only dying girls like Sleeping Beauty.

In the first page, we learn these things about our narrator, Zinnia Gray: that she’s a nerd who majored in folklore. That she’s dying – has been dying all her life. That she loves Sleeping Beauty even though she knows it’s problematic as hell. In fact, Sleeping Beauty has been one of her life’s great obsessions. The action begins on Zinnia’s twenty-first birthday, when her best friend Charmaine Baldwin (Charm) throws her a Sleeping-Beauty-themed birthday party, in a tower and with an ancient spinning wheel, no less. Charm is a badass lesbian science major and Zinnia’s absolute champion. This twenty-first birthday is especially heavy, because no sufferer of Zinnia’s very rare disease (caused by environmental pollutants) has ever lived to twenty-two. Zin manages to prick her finger on the spindle of Charm’s birthday party prop – no small thing, as it’s quite dull, but she is a determined dying girl – “and then something happens, after all.”

Zin has an adventure in another world, side-by-side a plucky princess named Primrose. They aim to avoid not only the spindle of a spinning wheel but an unwanted marriage; they travel to take on a wicked fairy who is not who she seems; and they learn that they are but two in a whole galaxy of doomed or cursed or dying princesses or girls or women, who would all like the chance to rewrite their own stories. This is not “one of those soft, G-rated fairy tales, stripped of medieval horrors,” but rather “the kind of tale where prices are paid and blood is spilled.” Except it’s also a tale of empowerment and badass womanhood, of female friendships and love, and it ends in a joyful go-forth sort of moment. And it’s hilarious: Zinnia as narrator is wry, sarcastic, vulnerable, irreverent, just someone I’d love to know. (Dying girls sometimes use humor as a shield. “I personally feel that accepting my own imminent mortality is enough work without also having a healthy attitude about it.” And what of it?)

I am extremely excited about the next installment – I was afraid A Mirror Mended might take on another standalone fairy tale rewrite, but this is indeed the continued adventures of Zinna Gray, “professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty,” and I can’t wait.

Rating: 8 stones slick and dark with blood.

One Response

  1. […] the action of A Spindle Splintered, Zinnia Gray’s exciting life traveling through the fairy tale multiverse, saving princesses […]

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