Fracture Your Own Fairy Tale in “A Spindle Splintered” – Book Review

A Spindle Splintered

Zinnia has a rare, terminal illness and not much time left. On what is likely to be her last birthday, her best friend goes all out, theming the party around Zinnia’s obsession with the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. There’s even a spinning wheel! Then Zinnia pricks her finger on the spindle and ends up in an alternate universe, facing down a young princess named Primrose who’s been cursed by an evil fairy, and you have A Spindle Splintered.

A Spindle Splintered is a queer, feminist retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. As it’s written by Alix E. Harrow, the author of one of my favorite fantasy novels, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, I was expecting something a little like that when I read this book, and that was my mistake. The two could honestly not be more different, but it doesn’t matter. The prose isn’t as poetic (it’s still exceedingly well-written), but Harrow never fails to craft an entertaining story.

While I do love Sleeping Beauty, the Disney movie, I acknowledge that Aurora is a heroine only in the loosest sense, having very little agency and hardly any lines in a film that’s named after her. All of these are brought up early on by Zinnia, who is obsessed with the fairy tale as it mirrors her own existence. What Harrow does with this book is give the sleeping princess a choice. When Zinnia stumbles upon Primrose, she interrupts the curse – stopping her from pricking her finger and thus falling into the enchanted sleep. The two then decide to flee the castle and track down the evil fairy, hoping to remove the curse (perhaps both of theirs) completely.

It doesn’t end up the way they were hoping, but the defiance isn’t in the result, it’s in the act itself. By attempting to take control of their own destiny, Primrose and Zinnia set off a chain of events that has long-lasting consequences, not just for them, but for other sleeping beauties in other universes. Harrow definitely turns a well-known fable on its head with this book.

There is something comforting in reading stories about found family. Zinnia and Primrose bond not only on their quest, but over the shared, similar circumstances in which they find themselves. The relationships that develop in these situations are often some of the best-written in any media, and the absolute solidarity these two show is honestly what makes this book so compelling. It’s less a book about fairy tales and more a story about the power of sisterhood.

As Zinnia has a terminal illness, much of the conflict in this book is with herself – with her body, with her expectations, with her attitude towards her own demise. Not being chronically ill, I cannot state with any definitiveness how accurate the portrayal is. Some may be concerned that the fairy tale nature of the story would follow the “magical cure” trope, and while I don’t want to get too spoilery in my review, I will say that I think Harrow does a good job of navigating around it.

There is a bit of romance – not with Zinnia but between two non-POV characters – but actually a great portion of this book is getting a character out of a romance brought on by forced heteronormativity. As in, now that Primrose has “escaped” her “curse”, she is free to marry the handsome prince, who of course she does not want to marry at all. Princes aren’t her type, after all.

A Spindle Splintered is a short read that can easily be finished in an afternoon, if you’re anything at all like me. The finale definitely leaves things open-ended, and this is the first in a series, but I’m unclear as to whether or not the proceeding books will have the same characters or will just continue the “fractured fables” theme.

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A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow is published by Tor.com and is currently available wherever books are sold.

*I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.


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