Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty, is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues.
Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can’t handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White’s Evil Queen has found out how her story ends, and she’s desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone. Will Zinnia accept the Queen’s poisonous request and save them both from the hot-iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path?
It’s been five years since Zinnia Gray’s first foray in to the multiverse and, if she’s being totally honest with herself, she’s getting a little bored of constantly saving the damsel in distress. But then something strange happens, Zinnia finds herself pulled through a mirror to another universe, only in this one she isn’t the protagonist. Snow White’s evil Queen might be gorgeous, but she’s also kidnapped Zinnia and wont let her go until she tells her her secret, how she travels through the stories. As we know, not everything is as black and white as it would seem and before long Zinnia starts questioning whether the Evil Queen is as evil as described, or just another victim of a story written centuries ago.
“We don’t get to choose the parts we’re chosen to play. You should know that better than most.”
These Novella’s may be small, but they do pack one heck of an emotional punch. Harrow’s choice to use a dying girl as the protagonist of her stories was genius. Zinnia knows that someday soon, a lot sooner than her friends and family, she is going to die, and she uses her ability to travel the multiverse to try and escape that fate for as long as humanly possible. But with each journey she feels the fragility of her life a little more, she starts to realise that she isn’t living the life she should be, that maybe instead of trying to escape she should be spending as much time as possible, happy, with the people she loves. She is someone determined to outrun their fate while knowing that it just isn’t possible which, at times can make her a little more likely to jump into a dangerous situation. Through these stories Zinnia starts to realise that her end is pre-written and no amount of running is going to stop it from happening.
This is a series that completely makes you examine what you know about fairy tales. Harrow makes me wish I had studied something similar to Zinnia at University, but through her stories we get to examine the patriarchal bias behind these stories, showing us that in the tales we read growing up, the villain wasn’t always who we thought it was. But as well as this, Harrow writes her stories and her characters with a modern and extremely sarcastic wit. Zinnia’s sarcasm is off the charts in places, and I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud at something she said:
“The Queen gathers herself with the expression of a woman who is determined to regain the reins of the conversation. ‘People do not like strange things. Golden eggs, talking wolves… They are seen as ill omens, portents. Acts of witchcraft.’ Her eyes flicker. ‘They will soon want a witch to burn.”
I make a show of looking around her workroom, with it’s skulls and pestles and unpleasant things floating in jars. “They wont have to look very hard, will they.”
And while this does make for some humorous scenes, it adds a levity to the story, whilst still managing to make you feel the sadness, the terror and everything in between.
Harrow’s writing style is what initially made me fall in love with her stories and, while these novellas are heaps and bounds away from her previous books, her use of imagery, of feminist themes, her prose and lush writing style seem to follow whatever story she writes. These stories about the multiverse absolutely transport you and I love how Harrow doesn’t just focus on the ‘western’ versions of the stories but throws in other versions from folklore and mythology around the world.
The romance in this was wonderful and wondrously queer. Seeing Zinnia realising her attraction, the inner turmoil because she’s evil, it all made for some hilarious scenes. But it was also a little bittersweet, she isn’t made to get the happy ending that so many others do, knows that her happily ever after will only last so many years, and as sad as it was seeing her come to this realisation, it was also a little liberating for Zinnia.
“It never occurred to me that the person you save might save you in turn. Perhaps survival is less solitary than I thought.”
If you’re a fan of fairy tale re-tellings, but are looking for something a little different, I can’t recommend this series enough. Harrow never fails to make me fall in love with her characters and writing and has me wishing I could travel the multiverse just like Zinnia. It’s funny, it’s sad and it’s definitely up there with some of my all time favourite reads.