Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. HarrowA Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables, #1) by Alix E. Harrow
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: F/F romance, fairy tales, fantasy, retellings
Series: Fractured Fables #1
Pages: 128
Published by Tordotcom on October 5, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow's A Spindle Splintered brings her patented charm to a new version of a classic story.
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.

My Review:

A Spindle Splintered is about the power of narrative to shape and warp people’s lives. And it’s about the power of sisterhood and friendship that helps them to break free.

Zinnia Gray is dying. For her, Sleeping Beauty is more than a myth or a fairy tale. It’s a dream of wish fulfillment. Sleeping Beauty went to sleep, and when she woke up her curse was broken and all was well.

Zinnia would be happy to sleep for a century if she could wake up and be healthy, with all of her loved ones around her. But it’s not to be, and she knows it. She has an incurable disease that is going to take away all the birthdays after this one.

Her best friend Charm is determined to give Zinnia the full Disney Princess Sleeping Beauty experience, complete with crumbling castle and defective spinning wheel. But the power of their friendship and the power of narrative and the multiverse turn out to be a whole lot stronger than either Zinnia or Charm could possibly have imagined.

Zinnia, like all the other Sleeping Beauties before and after her, pricks her finger on the spindle, but instead of sleeping for a century, Zinnia finds herself spinning out into the multiverse of all the Sleeping Beauties who have ever, or will ever, do the same.

Zinnia cries out through the multiverse, not for someone to save her, but for someone she can save. And her cry is answered in ways that Disney and the Brothers Grimm never imagined.

Escape Rating A+: First, this book is just plain wonderful. It’s a wonderfully twisted re-imagining of the Sleeping Beauty story, and it’s a terrific story of friendship, sisterhood and agency. I always love it when the princesses save themselves – as they should!

Most of the reviews make a comparison between A Spindle Splintered and the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and that comparison is certainly there to be made. Just as Miles Morales teams up with variations of Spider-Man from across one multiverse, Zinnia teams up with Sleeping Beauties from myths and fairytales that spread across their multiverse.

There is, however, an element to A Spindle Splintered and the multiverse of Sleeping Beauties that wasn’t present in the Spiderverse. Come to think of it, there are two elements. One is that Spider-Man in all of his, her, and their incarnations, including Spider-Ham, is an active character with agency. Once that radioactive spider bites their victim, the resulting Spider-person becomes an active force for good.

Sleeping Beauty is a passive character. Her fate is to prick her finger and sleep for a century, only to be woken up by a kiss. She’s the progenitor of the woman in the refrigerator trope. She’s not even the protagonist of her own story.

But the original point I wanted to make about the royalty of princesses (yes, royalty is the collective noun for a group of princesses) who would be Sleeping Beauty is that many of them, and clearly the ones who answer Zinnia’s call, don’t want to be Sleeping Beauty. They are being forced or coerced or shoved into the role by the power of the narrative to shoehorn people into predetermined patterns or tropes. It’s a concept that has been used to power entire stories or series like Second Hand Curses by Drew Hayes, the Five Hundred Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey, and the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. The force of narrative, of its need to recreate timeless stories by shoving people into roles they don’t want in order to fulfill its directive, makes A Spindle Splintered a powerful story because we already know how the story is “supposed” to go and want to see it subverted.

And it’s wonderful – especially when all the Sleeping Beauties carry off the princess and save the day, not just for her, but for each other as well.

Speaking of stories that could use a different ending, the Fractured Fables series will continue next summer with A Mirror Mended. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, will Zinnia Gray save the sorceress or take a really big fall?” Or both. We’ll see what we see when we look in that mirror.

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