Book Review : A Spindle Splintered

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : A Spindle SplinteredA Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
Published by Tordotcom on October 5th 2021
Pages: 128
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Source: NetGalley

“Sleeping Beauty is the worst fairy tale, pretty much any way you slice it. It’s aimless and amoral and chauvinist as shit. Even among the other nerds who majored in folklore, Sleeping Beauty is nobody’s favorite. The romantic girls like Beauty and the Beast; basic girls like Cinderella; goth girls like Snow White. Only the dying girls like Sleeping Beauty.”
It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is an extra-special occasion, because it’s the last she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, but the main fact for Zinnia is that no one who has it has lived to twenty-two.
Her best friend is intent on making Zin’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, she founds herself cast into another world, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

A Spindle Splintered is a breath of fresh air of a fairy retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Instead of trying to evade the fact that most fairy tales are completely chauvinistic, A Spindle Splintered, embraces this truth and seeks to destroy it on what is a lighthearted adventure sprinkled with darker themes, including terminal illnesses and what it means for women to not have any choices. Like most of author Alix E. Harrow’s novels, A Spindle Splintered is filled with the author’s trademark beautiful prose and her ability to immediately suck you into the world. I really loved how Harrow turns the fairy tale tropes on its head, the disability representation, and the feminist goals of the novel. However, I found that a few things in this short novel could have been executed better in order to better push the feminist narrative.


“I’ve never thought about the future. I never had one.”


What I loved the most about A Spindle Splintered was the disability representation. Main character and narrator Zinnia has a genetic disorder that is terminal. Author Harrow does an amazing job of portraying not only Zinnia’s headspace while dealing with the inevitability of her own mortality, but also the people with whom she interacts and how they cope with her inevitable death. Harrow flawlessly shows the disconnect between Zinnia’s priorities and that of her peers, who are concerned with partying and other shallow ventures, as they have all the time in the world to get their lives together. Her parents’ inability to deal with their daughter’s impending death, who spend their time helplessly searching for cures that don’t exist and joining support groups is also poignantly realistic. 


“I wanted to save us all from our stories, but I should have known better than anybody: there are worse endings than sleeping for a hundred years.”


I was really happily surprised at how accurate this portrayal of a disability and the grief that comes with it was, with time being measured in medicine doses, doctor appointments, x-rays, and the clock running out for Zinnia. I honestly think this is one of the best and most realistic representations of disabilities I have ever read in a novel. View Spoiler »


“‘I hope you find your happily-ever-after, or whatever.

‘Already did,’ I say…’I’m just looking for a better once-upon-a-time.’”


My other favorite part of A Spindle Splintered was the different take on the evil enchantress of The Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Both myself and Zinnia expected to encounter a Maleficent type sorceress, but get something else entirely. Zinnia is similarly surprised by the reasons behind Princess Primrose’s, The Sleeping Beauty of this novel, curse and what it means for both of their futures. I think this part involving the “wicked” fairy is another standout of the novel and it subverts the fairy tale trope with aplomb.


“But it’s difficult to disappear a princess. There tends to be wars and hunts and stories that end with witches dancing in hot iron shoes.”


Unfortunately, I felt that other parts of A Spindle Splintered did not execute its feminist agenda quite as well. Mainly, I was less than thrilled with the character of Princess Primrose altogether. I felt the character had very little development and personality. Instead, Primrose felt more like a bystander in her own story, which does in fact, make sense in a novel that seeks to show the lack of agency of women in fairy tales, but I found it a disappointing take. To me, Primrose felt like a plot device to push main character Zinnia to realize the many choices she has been blessed with in comparison to this doomed princess, if she only reaches out to take advantage of them. It left a bad taste in my mouth that Primrose was used essentially as a juxtaposition for Zinnia in a novel that seeks to not only show everything wrong with gender roles in fairy tales, but also to throw them out entirely. So it’s just sad that Primrose falls prey to the very same tropes that she is supposed to triumph over, and is just such a flat character, who only follows the lead of others. Primrose really only exists through what Zinnia tells us of her, never having her own scenes or acting on her own, which undermines the entire message of A Spindle Splintered.


It doesn’t help that the one thing Primrose decides for herself is View Spoiler » That would have been more a modern, feminist take on romance, which I felt was the entire purpose of the novel. 


Despite failing to really overthrow all of the tropes it wishes to, A Spindle Splintered is still a very fun, lighthearted novel, which I even read in one sitting. I think A Spindle Splintered  was on the right track to be an entirely feminist take on fairy tales, but it simply could have done some very important things better. Perhaps this lack of development in characters other than Zinnia and follow through of its themes, is due in part to the shortness of the novel, which is a mere 128 page.  Knowing what a talented author Alix E. Harrow is, after reading The Once and Future Witches, I honestly wish she had attempted a darker, more serious take on overthrowing misogynist fairy tales, instead of such a tongue-in-cheek, brief one. I would love to read a longer work with the same feminist goals and more developed characters by the same author. If you love fairy tale retellings and feminism, and are looking for an entertaining read with a happy ending, look no further than A Spindle Splintered.

Book Review : A Spindle Splintered - Blogging wtih Dragons

Posted April 19, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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