A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

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A Splindle Splintered

by Alix Harrow
October 5, 2021 · Tor.com
Science Fiction/Fantasy

When I read A Spindle Splintered, I had completely forgotten what it was about. I tore through the whole novella in one night and was blown away. And while I know you’re here to hear all about it, this is one of those few times when I want you to trust me and read this book without knowing anything else because that was a big part of the magic for me. In case I’ve persuaded you to hop right down to the purchase links below, here are the two things you need to know before you buy:

My only gripe is that I wish this were a full-length novel and not a novella, because I wanted to see so much more of the characters and their journey.
This book does not have a central romance between the two main characters. One of them ends up in a romantic relationship with a side character that is queer and adorable.

Now, on with the review.

Zinnia Gray has a rare disease and no one diagnosed with it has ever made it to the age of 22. That’s why she’s always identified with Sleeping Beauty and her curse, finding comfort in the fairy tale since childhood. Now that she’s turning 21, Zinnia’s best friend, Charmaine, is throwing her the ultimate final birthday party with a Sleeping Beauty theme that even includes a spinning wheel.

What’s a drunk Sleeping Beauty fan/birthday girl to do at the end of a party like that? Prick her finger on the spindle, of course. But instead of falling into a cursed sleep, Zinnia falls through worlds and sees a thousand Sleeping Beauties reaching out to touch the spindle. One of them, Primrose, stops at Zinnia’s cry for help, kicking off a big adventure to see if they can save themselves from their fates.

That’s right! It’s a Sleeping Beauty MULTIVERSE!!! No wonder why I lost my shit when I heard about this book months ago! But also, I’m so glad I couldn’t remember the premise (thanks, pandemic brain!), because it felt like such a revelation, watching it all play out. Not only does A Spindle Splintered reimagine the character of Sleeping Beauty as a contemporary girl, it reminds us there are many versions of the tale that have been passed down through the centuries.

The whole novella is told in the first person from Zinnia’s perspective and her voice hooked me right from the beginning. The story opens with Zinnia telling us:

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.

[…]

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

Only dying girls like Sleeping Beauty.

Zinnia’s straightforwardness speaks to my soul. I don’t know if it’s because she has less than a year left to live, so she’s all out of fucks to give, or if that would have been her nature even without a terminal illness. Regardless, she grabbed my attention and held it to the last word, even more than the things she experienced throughout the story. The actual story is interesting, but how could I not want to read every word from someone who shares this with the reader?

I think: oh, shit. I say, “Oh, shit.”

She also calls things exactly as she sees them, sharing painful observations as they come to her. I’m sticking this example behind a spoiler tag because it’s one of Zinnia’s big epiphanies, even though it doesn’t give away any plot points.

Show Spoiler
I used to see Sleeping Beauty as my wildest, most aspirational fantasy—a dying girl who didn’t die, a tragedy turned into a romance. But suddenly I saw her as my mere reflection: a girl with a shitty story. A girl whose choices were stolen from her.

Another strength of this story is the friendship writing. Zinnia’s a very lonely person. Being in and out of the hospital has kept her from making many friendships, and she has to manage her parents’ feelings as they anticipate grieving her death. Thankfully, Zinnia has Charmaine, who is her only friend and lifeline. Their banter is adorable and sometimes dark, and their friendship is so deep that they’re more like family.

“You know it wasn’t originally a spinning wheel in the story?” I offer, because alcohol transforms me into Hermione’s more-boring sister. “In the original version—I mean, if oral traditions had original versions, which they don’t—she pricks her finger on a piece of flax. The Grimms used the word spindel, or spindle, but the wheel itself wasn’t commonly used in Europe until the mid-16th…why are your eyes closed?”

“I’m praying for your amyloidosis to flare up and end my pain.”

“Okay, fuck you?”

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to fit a spinning wheel in the trunk of a Corolla? Just prick your finger already! It’s almost midnight.”

“That’s Cinderella, dumbass.”

Zinnia also quickly forges a bond with Primrose, the Sleeping Beauty who saves her from falling between worlds. They’re both cursed in their own way and have to rely on each other if they’re going to do something about their fates. I loved watching them work together, because it’s key to the central message of A Spindle Splintered: we need to take control of our own stories and sometimes we have to save each other to do that. Neither Zinnia nor Primrose can get to their respective positive endings without each other and they’re both changed for the better because they work together.

My other favourite aspect of this story is how it turns the idea of villainy on its head. I can’t explain what I mean by that without dropping massive spoilers, but Zinnia and Primrose’s encounter with the villain stuck with me for days because it’s so beautifully handled.

Like I mentioned above, my only complaint is that I wish this were a full-length novel. Everything is wrapped up well and I can easily see more books following, but I wanted more of everything. More time with the characters and seeing them grow, more worldbuilding, more backstories. Maybe I’m being greedy, but I would have absolutely joined the Bad Decisions Book Club if this were longer and I am sad that that didn’t happen!

I’m a gigantic sucker for retellings, whether they’re of fairy tales, myths, or classic novels, and A Spindle Splintered might be my favourite so far. Its take on a multiverse feels fresh because there are no superheroes, only badass girls saving themselves. I read it a few weeks ago and I’m still marvelling over it, occasionally pausing what I’m doing to think about a favourite scene or piece of dialogue. I cannot wait for the next book in this series, because that blurb already has me drooling.* I will absolutely read this again and I can’t wait until my daughters are old enough to read it, too.

*Don’t read the blurb for the next book until you read this one, unless you want spoilers for the ending of A Spindle Splintered.

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