Book Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

Title: A Spindle Splintered
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication date: October 5, 2021
Length: 128 pages
Genre: Fairy tale/ fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered brings her patented charm to a new version of a classic story. 

THIS is the way to write a novella — short, sweet, spare, and totally on point.

In A Spindle Splintered, we meet Zinnia Gray on the cusp of what she’s sure will be her last birthday. Thanks to her rare genetic condition, her death is inescapable, and as she explains to people who ask her about future plans, she’s just running out the clock.

Because of her condition, Zinnia has tried to accelerate as much of her life as she can, finishing high school and then college early, getting a degree in folklore, never forgetting that for all her life, she’s been in the process of dying. And maybe because of that, fairy tales in general and Sleeping Beauty in particular are her obsessions.

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

Only dying girls like Sleeping Beauty.

In a moment of utter weirdness, Zinnia pricks her finger on the spinning wheel her best friend Charm (short for Charmaine) has set up for her birthday. Suddenly, Zinnia finds herself between worlds, finally landing in one in which an impossibly beautiful princess is calling for help. Primrose is a more traditional version of a Sleeping Beauty, cursed at birth to fall into a 100-year slumber on her 21st birthday — but thanks to Zinnia’s intervention, her doom seems to be avoided, yet she’s left to face a different sort of doom, getting married off to the perfect prince, much to her dismay.

Primrose and Zinnia set off on a quest to break both their curses, but nothing is really as it seems. The story culminates in a terrific action sequence and ends with plenty of surprises, while also leaving the door open for further tales.

I love the writing, the characters, the inventiveness of the storytelling, and the overall attitude and tone. I don’t always get along with novellas, often feeling like I’ve been left without the full picture and that I’ve read a synopsis rather than a full story. That’s not the case in A Spindle Splintered.

This novella reads just like a fairy tale, plus the modern elements make the characters relatable and bring humor even to totally grim (Grimm?) situations.

“Well, Harold,” I say gently. “They’re lesbians.”

(I’m not going to provide any context for that quote — just know that it’s perfect and made me laugh.)

The book has beautiful woodcut illustrations from the traditional Arthur Rackham versions of the story. You can see some of these here — scroll down to get to the woodcuts. These illustrations enhance the magical fairy tale elements of the story, and make the entire book feel classic, even in the more contemporary scenes.

I loved A Spindle Splintered, and can’t wait for the next book in the author’s Fracture Fables series,:

A Mirror Mended
To be released June 2022

A Spindle Splintered is a delight. Don’t miss it!

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Novella Review: The Undefeated by Una McCormack

 

She was a warrior of words.

As a journalist she exposed corruption across the Interstellar Commonwealth, shifting public opinion and destroying careers in the process.

Long-since retired, she travels back to the planet of her childhood, partly through a sense of nostalgia, partly to avoid running from humanity’s newest–and self-created–enemy, the jenjer.

Because the enemy is coming, and nothing can stand in its way.

What a cool story!

This brief sci-fi tale follows writer Monica Greatorex, a worlds-famous journalist who’s spent her life on the front-lines of inter-planetary battles for conquest, as the Commonwealth expanded and expanded to take over and absorb the planets on the periphery.

Now in her 60s, Monica heads back to her home planet of Sienna, going against the tide of desperate humans fleeing the outer planets for the supposed safety of the Commonwealth core. Monica is accompanied by her companion Gale — a jenjer, a genetically engineered human whose people were originally created as an indentured servant class.

And now, the jenjer are ready to rise up, and it’s becoming clear that nothing can stand in their way.

In The Undefeated, Monica’s trip to Sienna brings up memories of her childhood, and in particular, a key occurrence that led to her family’s flight from their home to the structured, wealthy, bland life of the Commonwealth. Her reminiscences about her youth and everything that came after are fascinating, and are key to understanding the fear and inevitability of the story’s main sequences.

This is a short piece, but really captivating, with excellent world building and character development. Highly recommended!

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The details:

Title: The Undefeated
Author: Una McCormack
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: May 14, 2019
Length: 112 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased