Wicked, I'm not sure I even realized it was supposed to be the Snow White story.
After reading Wicked and seeing how Maguire’s treatment of the Wicked Witch of the West portrayed Elfaba as more kindhearted than wicked, merely masquerading as a witch, and not even really from the west, I assumed that in Mirror Mirror the allegedly wicked queen would really be a tragically maligned figure while Snow White would be the truly wicked one. (And, in fact, until finishing Mirror Mirror I assumed that the ugly stepsisters of Maguire's Cinderella retelling would really be beautiful, sweet and kind, and Cinderella would be a mean and thoughtless harpy, but Mirror Mirror caused me to revise my expectations.) Maguire may have explored the theme of fairy tale retellings through several books, but his methods are by no means formulaic.
In Maguire's version of Snow White, displaced Spaniard Vicente de Nevada and his motherless daughter Bianca (get it? that's White) have a small but comfortable Italian holding in Montefiore. Bianca’s mother and the love of Vicente’s life, Maria Ines, had died in childbirth in approximately 1494. Seven years later, although the residents of Montefiore have managed to avoid the civil unrest that swirls around them, destruction is visiting them in the form of the Borgias, Cesare and his sister (and sometime lover) Lucrezia.
Cesare forces Vicente to depart from Montefiore on a quest to obtain the one remaining branch of the Tree of Knowledge, leaving Montefiore (and thus, Bianca) under Cesare’s control. Vicente is compelled to obey this demand as he owes the holding of Montefiore to the Borgias. Over the next five years, Lucrezia is overcome with jealousy as she realizes that Bianca has unwittingly and unwillingly caught the eye of Cesare, so Lucrezia pays a young hunter to take Bianca into the woods and kill her.
Of course the hunter cannot complete the evil deed, and instead releases Bianca into the forest, where she is found by a group of strange stone creatures that are slowly evolving into dwarves. (That's one of the more bizarre aspects of this story, of which I’m not absolutely sure I grasped the point.) Another odd part of the story is the way time seems to slow down for Bianca while she is with the dwarves. She lies in a sort of a coma for perhaps 6 years. There is really no explanation for this passage of time (no poison, no illness) other than the fact that the stony beings she is with have a different concept of time from humans; nor is there any good explanation for why she finally wakes up.
This book is definitely a departure from the Disney version. I am sure that in this case I prefer the original story. Some of Grimm’s fairy tales can be grisly (in the case of the original Snow White story, Disney doesn't tell us that the wicked queen salts, cooks, and eats what she believes to be Snow White's heart, or that while Snow White and her prince were living happily ever after, the queen was punished with dancing in red-hot shoes until she fell down dead), but Maguire's retelling went beyond grisly. It was corrupt and perverted (though I understand that for some of you that may be a draw rather than a deterrent).
One great thing about the way Maguire told the Snow White story was how he stirred in actual historical figures. The Borgias fascinate me in the mesmerizing way of a poisonous snake. I'm not sure I can think of a more conniving and infamous family in all of history. Though their presence in a fairy tale can't be historically accurate, I'm convinced the portrayal of their tendencies and personalities was.
My biggest complaint about the book is that odd dreamlike quality I was frequently frustrated by in my own creative writing assignments when I was in grade school. So often when I was required to write a story I had trouble making it sound concrete and realistic, as when something you think you understand inexplicably morphs into another thing, or perhaps even disappears entirely. Much of this book was plagued by a similar problem. It may sound intriguing, but I saw this as a weakness in my own writing, and when I recognize it in a book I can't help but view it as a flaw.
Now for something completely different…
1 day ago