Updated: Feb 9
Alix. E. Harrow is one of my auto-buy authors, and her debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January—a book about stories and doors and how, sometimes, the two are interchangeable—is one my heart books. When I picked up A Spindle Splintered, it was for the indulgence of a fun and short story that reimagines (to borrow some of the author’s words) “the spider-verse but with sleeping beauties”, but I found much more than I bargained for. Many and fierce delights, and terrors too.
I went into this novella with nothing but those words—spider-verse meets Sleeping Beauty—and my experience of reading it was better for it. So I don’t want to surrender too much in the way of a summary, but I will say this:
In this novella, Harrow manages to reinvent the seductive whimsy and archetypal resonance of fairytales with depth and tenderness and intelligence. She fills her female characters with agency and flips the fairytale narrative of disempowerment and dependence on its head. In these pages are stories about girls with starved hearts who learn to draw power from worlds that wish them dead but which incorrectly anticipated their sheer covetousness for life, their wild hunger for more than: more than the shitty handsome prince and the shitty luck and the shitty story. Because it’s not only the dying girls who like Sleeping Beauty—it’s also the girls who are so unbearably desperate to live.
I fell asleep thinking of this novella, wondering about fate and curses and the shapes of the invisible cages around us. I thought about stories a lot too—the stories we are thrust into and desperately hope for a way out of, the stories we fear might unfold without us when we’re not looking, and the stories that are sealed in us, coiled tight in our guts, waiting to unspool. And when I thought about Charm, I thought about love—the people we love and the people who love us and how important it is to reach across the silent gulfs that keep us apart, to show each other our woundedness, our brokenness, our bruised but still-beating hearts. How to love each other properly, in ways that turn our love into a key instead of a cage.
When I woke, it was with a bristling kind of hope, that same fist-clench of hunger in the belly that the characters of this novella are spurred by—a hunger to believe in magic and power (not power over something, but power that comes from within, self-generated and endless) and possibilities as immense as oceans, that tumbling headlong desire to take your story in both hands and plunge over the edge, to long not for a better ending, but for “a better once upon a time.”
A gift wrapped in an appealingly slim volume, A Spindle Splintered is both a tribute and a loving critique of fairytales, the two coming together in a dizzying constellation of awareness: awareness of the tropes that underpin the genre, of the ways in which the story plays into them, and the ways in which it ultimately departs from them. It is clearly the novel of a writer with an abundant fondness for fairytales, and it shows in the most splendid of ways.
Have you read A Spindle Splintered yet? If yes, let me know what you thought!
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