Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

Book: A Spindle Splintered

Author: Alix E. Harrow

Pages: 128

Source: Owned

Publisher: Tordotcom

Genre: Fantasy, Novella, Fairytale Retelling

Publication Date: October 5, 2021

Storygraph Summary:

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:

I first heard about this book in early 2021, and I am a huge fan of fairytale retellings. I had just finished reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January, and I was looking for more by Alix E. Harrow. So, I was pleasantly surprised that this book was coming out so soon! Plus, it helps that it’s a novella which I have found to be the perfect story length to get me out of a reading slump.

In A Spindle Splintered, Zinnia Gray is dying. She has a rare, incurable disease which requires her to take medications twice daily to slow it down. No one with this disease has made it past their twenty-first birthday, and Zinnia’s best friend Charm is going to make sure it’s the best birthday she’s ever had. It could be her last.

Naturally, when a child knows they will eventually die and there’s nothing they can do to stop it, they seek out something to cling to. For Zinnia that was fairy tales – particularly Sleeping Beauty. She became so enamored with fairy tales that when she went to college, she studied them eventually earning a degree in folk studies. She is literally an expert on fairy tales.

This comes in quite handy as her last birthday party ends up with her sucked into the story of Sleeping Beauty. Zinnia jokingly pricks her finger on a spindle at the party and is whisked away into a land of castles and knights and princesses. It’s here she meets Primrose, the princess of the story cursed to prick her finger on a spindle and die. Zinnia almost immediately decides to help save Primrose from her fate, and the two of them set off on a journey to force the evil fairy to lift the curse. It’s a race against time as the pull of the curse grows stronger and Zinnia fights to breath without her medication.

Since Zinnia has always known she was dying, she came up with some rules for her life – move fast, go hard, don’t fall in love, and try not to die. These rules come into play a lot during the story. Moving fast and going hard are what convinced her to help Primrose in the first place. She decided if she was dying anyways, she may as well enjoy the impossible for a little while. Zinnia really takes the whole saying of “live every day like it’s your last” to heart because it really could be her last.

As both Zinnia and Primrose struggle to make their way to the wicked fairy’s lair, some new facts come to light. Like Primrose maybe isn’t the damsel in distress she first appears to be. The story really takes a lot of the fairytale tropes we are used to reading and flips them around. Nothing is what it appears to be, sometimes literally. I found this to be very refreshing in a retelling. I mean after all these are just stories. The fiction within the fiction can be different. Nothing has to adhere to what we know, and the author does a wonderful job driving this point home throughout the novella.

I also really enjoyed the LGBTQ+ represented in the novella. Zinnia was initially drawn to Sleeping Beauty because she’s, well, beautiful. She likes who she wants, and she may as well since she’s dying. Her best friend Charm is also an unapologetic lesbian, and I loved her personality and sass. She truly cares for her friend Zinnia, and she does her best not to pity her, which Zinnia appreciates. It’s tough being the best friend of the dying girl, but Charm refuses to give up on Zinnia.

Finally, I really liked the message of agency in the novella. In the end Primrose has to make some decisions for herself if she wants to escape her narrative. Zinnia also has to learn to accept that she has been living a half-life. Pushing people away is not helpful, and she has to make some decisions that she may not like to get where she wants to be. The important thing is, though, that these women had to make things happen. They stopped letting things be done to them and got things done.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I gave A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow five out five stars. It was a truly refreshing retelling of a classic fairytale. It subverts a lot of storytelling norms, and the characters were all explored with depth and care. It’s amazing what Harrow was able to accomplish in just 128 pages!

Have you read A Spindle Splintered? What about other books by Alix E. Harrow? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

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