Book Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

Today’s review is for A SPINDLE SPLINTERED by Alix E. Harrow. It’s a novella-length retelling of The Sleeping Beauty set in the present day. One of my favorite things about the physical copy is the illustrations used throughout from Arthur Rackham.

Author: Alix E. Harrow
Series: Fractured Fables, #1
Age Category: New Adult/Adult
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publish Date: October 5, 2021
Print Length: 128

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Official Synopsis

USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered brings her patented charm to a new version of a classic story. Featuring Arthur Rackham’s original illustrations for The Sleeping Beauty, fractured and reimagined.

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.

My Review

A SPINDLE SPLINTERED is a novella with a subversive, modern take on the classic western fairytale, THE SLEEPING BEAUTY. What grabbed me right away was the opening few paragraphs to the fable. Zinnia, the main character, calls it “aimless and amoral and chauvinistic as shit.” THE SLEEPING BEAUTY was actually my favorite of the classic Disney movies, so that opening hit me hard! (I also think I really loved it because the animation style is so distinctive.)

However, Zinnia has a valid point. But Harrow’s version of it gives agency back to the female lead of the story. Zinnia is the modern day equivalent of Sleeping Beauty, in a sense. Both the time in which she lives and her terminal illness spur on her motivation to experience life, which resulted in a strong will. When she suddenly finds herself in another Sleeping Beauty’s story, she encourages the princess not to fold, to fight for herself. In short, it’s about women uplifting and supporting other women. Charm fits the bill, too, always looking out for Zinnia and keeping her grounded.

The only part that fell a little flat for me was the explanation about the ability to fall through different worlds. I personally would have preferred it to err more on the side of magic rather than scientific theory. But I suppose the latter theory presented was to tie it back to Zinnia’s more contemporary world where there’s really no such thing as magic. (Or is there?)

That said, I loved the writing and the tone of the story: eloquently succinct and, at times, wry and blunt. Additionally, the incorporation of Arthur Rackham’s original illustrations from the fairytale was a lovely touch. It definitely made me feel like I was reading an “old timey” storybook. I also appreciated Harrow’s crash course included in the story about the different versions of THE SLEEPING BEAUTY throughout time. It reminded me of how characters in fairytales can be caricatures of maligned historical figures twisted into villains or idealized versions of gender roles. (The ending of THE DARK QUEENS introduced me to this concept.)

Overall, A SPINDLE SPLINTERED will entertain any fan of western fairytales turned upside down. This modern Sleeping Beauty has her own voice, a best friend named Charm in lieu of fairy godparents, and the gumption to take on the villain and uncover the truth.

Rating: 4
Content warnings: terminal illness
Reading format: Hardback

9 thoughts on “Book Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

    1. I’m looking forward to seeing if the next one has some throwback illustrations. I’ll go the library route for that one.

  1. I thought this was an interesting retelling and I really liked it too. Can’t wait to read further books in this Fractured Fables series.

  2. Hey Celeste,

    I just finished this book the other night and my review will come this month as well to it. Also, I already grabbed A Mirror Mended to keep going in Zinnia’s travel adventures throughout the different fairy tales.

    I gotta be honest, I have never been a huge Disney fan of all the fairy tales. Sure, I did watch some of those movies, but growing up during the Iron Curtain being still up and me behind it, I hadn’t had the chance to watch them when I was little. So we had to stick with the books of Grimm’s tales, which I like a lot more anyway. Disney washed those stories down and also changed endings.

    But I did enjoy this retelling by Alix E. Harrow and I do have to agree with you that the first page just kinda knocked me out of my shoes, because I simply didn’t expect it.

    Cheerio
    RoXXie

    1. Oh good, I’m glad you read it, too! I didn’t realize the next one also features Zinnia. I don’t plan on buying the next one, but my library has it, so I’ll go that route once I decide to read it.

      That’s very interesting to know about how the Iron Curtain affected what movies you had access to. I’m pretty sure I read a Grimm fairytale or two, but it’s been so long that I can’t remember. I’d like to read them, though! Maybe I’ll buy a used copy somewhere, like the next library sale we have or something.

      1. Yeah, the second one is also about Zinnia, and it seems like it was the last one, but I can’t be for sure. A Mirror Mended was even better than the first one, even though I still don’t really understand how she was able to travel to the different dimensions. But that’s okay.

        Most of the time I actually thought that Zinnia wasn’t dimension-traveling but in a coma, and she just dreamt of these journeys.

        Yeah, the Iron Curtain! Everything from the west wasn’t pretty much forbidden. You just couldn’t get it, because the market was open to the western world.

  3. Great review! I enjoyed this book as well, though I agree that the explanation for how she traveled between realms (and why her phone still worked?) were kinda lost on me. Sleeping Beauty was probably my favorite Disney movie when I was young, too.

    1. Thanks, Nicole! I’m glad I’m not the only one who found the realm travel to be a bit odd. I didn’t feel like it needed to be explained scientifically…just roll with the whole fantasy genre thing and I’m good ha.

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