I am never one to shy away from retellings, and I can’t deny Alix E. Harrow presented an intriguing remix of Sleeping Beauty in A Spindle Splintered. I certainly loved what this story tried to be, but unfortunately, there were other forces at play.
Zinnia Gray is obsessed with Sleeping Beauty because she’s been cursed just like the classic fairy-tale princess. Unfortunately, Prince Charming’s kiss is not a cure for Zinnia’s rare medical condition. Nobody with Generalized Roseville Malady (GRM) has lived to twenty-two, and Zinnia has already spent twenty-one years under her parent’s oppressive sorrow with a need to live life and do it quickly. For her last birthday, Zinnia’s best friend surprises her with a sleeping beauty-themed party in an abandoned tower complete with warm beer, roses, and even a spindle. Fully committed to the theme, Zinnia pricks her finger on the spindle and is immediately transported to another world. She finds herself in a fairy tale with Princess Primrose who shares the same curse as Sleeping Beauty. The two decide they want to rewrite their stories and set out on an adventure to find a new happily ever after.
Our initial introduction to Zinnia’s world was captivating. She’s brutally honest about her dire situation and arms herself with a lot of irreverent humor. I was on the verge of buying in at first, but once Zinnia pricks her finger on the spindle the threads start to unravel. The novella reads like a young adult novel that got torn apart and forced into smaller packaging. The essence of this story is just not there and the connective tissue between moments is really thin. Everything was rushed and any sort of character development or worldbuilding was but a shapeless blur passed over in order to hit the main plot points. It was like reading SparkNotes – I got the main idea without any of the depth to make it meaningful.
At the root of this story is the tale of Sleeping Beauty, a princess that probably stars in every feminist’s worst nightmare. She certainly doesn’t play an active role in her own story, so I can understand how empowering it is just to have our female characters take action and *gasp* speak more than five words. But the story also wants to explore Sleeping Beauty’s inability to escape her fated curse through the lens of Zinnia’s illness. Both are heavy-hitting topics to explore, and I believe it was too big for this short story to handle. There simply was not enough time or space to support both in a meaningful way.
Female empowerment in this novella basically boiled down to “if you’re a woman you can make choices, too.” Spindle didn’t expand on that and it’s fine. But it’s a shame the story failed to fully realize its potential with Zinnia’s predicament because it is really interesting. Even when faced with death she’s able to take action. She’s not afraid to make choices and we’re made to believe she desires to live. It’s just that we see her going about it with the enthusiasm of selecting a cereal to eat for breakfast. It’s not enough to simply choose to live, but how and why you make that choice in the first place. What is a life if not something to LIVE for? The book’s inability to explore Zinnia’s conviction dilutes the choices she makes along the way. Her flippant actions also sully the idea of dying and it becomes a severely diminished threat compared to her desire to return to her homeworld.
A Spindle Splintered certainly started off strong but it lost its way quickly. Could you find enjoyment in this simple reimaging of Sleeping Beauty? Absolutely. A lot can be forgiven when it’s a comfortable story you love. I may not have particularly enjoyed this one, but I can still appreciate the message it tried to convey. I only wish the packaging was a little different to bring about the story’s full potential
Rating: A Spindle Splintered – 4.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to us in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.