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A Spindle Splintered
by Alix E. Harrow
Tor, $17.99 TPB, 128pp
Publish date: October 2021

This is gender-bent contemporary take on a familiar fairy tale trope:  the sleeping beauty.  This model has appeared in several old tales and is most familiar to us now as the Disney Sleeping Beauty.  But before she was sanitized into that favorite; she had a much more grim fate in most of the tales.  If you stop to think about it darkly…what would be the usual fate of a beautiful sleeping defenseless woman who needed to be rescued by anyone who fancied himself a hero…or just an opportunist?  But in these more enlightened times (and don’t let anyone tell you this isn’t the most enlightened generation), we can see women as empowered to save themselves…or each other.

Zinnia Grey was the victim of an industrial poisoning accident as a young child and no one so afflicted has ever lived past the age of twenty-one.  Today is her 21st birthday.  Today her family and best friend, Charm, gather to celebrate what is, undoubtedly, her very last birthday.  Zinnia has always refused to allow her condition to dictate her life and she’s given it her all; she graduated high school at seventeen and then got a Liberal Arts degree but there’s nowhere to go from here but to wait out the clock.  Rather than suffer through her parents’ angst in a depressing birthday party, she and Charm decamp to their favorite childhood hideout – an abandoned watchtower.  Charm has decided to provide an over-the-top rendition of a girl’s Princess party – complete with roses, appropriately romantic music and an old spinning wheel.  It’s a hoot …right up until Zinnia pricks her finger on the spinning wheel’s spindle and disappears.

As Zinnia spins through what appears to be pages of books or multiple princesses, one is seen clearly and she looks right at Zinnia and mouths the word “help.”  When Zinnia stops, she is in a castle with the most unbelievably beautiful girl; a girl with a compulsion to touch a spindle even though she knows it will curse her to sleep a hundred years; a girl who desperately wants a way out.  Even though Zinnia suspects she could easily return home the same way she came; she decides she’d rather stay and see if she can save someone else.  It appears to be a rather straightforward solution: find the evil fairy who cursed the fair Princess Primrose and convince her to reverse the spell.  Zinnia thinks she has just the right bribe to seal the deal.  But as the Grimm Brothers have shown us, reality isn’t the whitewashed stories; reality is an unwanted, undesired sleazy husband, a fairy who isn’t evil, and a hopeless future where young girls don’t get a say.

Zinnia is a clearheaded woman who, with nothing to lose, is willing to try anything.  The most fun device in the story is that her phone text still works and she can talk to Charm.  Both Zinnia and Charm are delightful voices and together work to find a solution for Primrose without wasting time and energy on Zinnia’s impending doom.  Very practical young women…  And Primrose turns out to be more than Zinnia expected.  But it’s the revelations from the evil fairy that actually drive the story and it takes a lovely turn even though there’s no real happy-ever-after for Zinnia.

This spare little book might qualify as a novella but the story in no way suffers from a lack of pages or prose. It’s a tight, beautifully-crafted story with charming characters and a timely resolution.  I loved it.  I would suspect its intended audience of young high-schoolers will appreciate the characters and their motivations, as well.   ~~ Catherine Book

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