I find Alix E. Harrow’s writing style incredibly readable, with her debut novel being one of my favorite books from 2019, and her works second on my ballot for both Best Short Story (“Mr. Death”) and Best Novella (A Spindle Splintered) last year. Given her popularity, it was no real surprise to see her back on the Best Novella shortlist this year with the sequel to A Spindle Splintered, and that proved a good excuse to finally pick up A Mirror Mended.
[Note: while A Mirror Mended is a sequel, its predecessor isn’t the sort of book that I consider especially susceptible to spoilers. If you want to be surprised about who is still alive after book one, you should pick something else to read. Otherwise, you should have no problems reading this review.]
A Mirror Mended continues to follow Zinnia Gray, our alternate universe Midwestern Sleeping Beauty, who has taken it upon herself to travel the multiverse fixing the stories of various other Sleeping Beauties. Only this time she’s pulled into Snow White by a Queen who knows how the villain’s story goes and doesn’t like the ending.
It’s a short novella, and it tries to do a lot in the space; in fact, my chief criticism is that it tries to do too much while keeping to novella length. Zinnia has been avoiding any sort of serious conversation with her friends back on Earth, escaping into a multiverse which seems to be breaking down. The Queen feels boxed in by societal constraints and wants to find another way for her story to go. There’s an alternate universe Snow White or two—including a pretty dark one—and then there’s a whirlwind romance with a very sexily foreboding villain. It’s a lot!
Without a doubt, the highlight of the novel was the exploration of the Queen looking for another story. There were certainly tweaks and additions to the familiar story, softening some of the attempted murder and casting her as a foreigner who married into the royal family and never quite gained the people’s trust. But it does the dual work of giving a second thought to what were once cookie-cutter villains while also diving into the limited options given to women in many societies. Add in a dash of creepy alternate universe Snow White, and there were pieces of an excellent story.
Unfortunately, the novella only spends so much analyzing the Queen being boxed into her role, because it also spends time on Zinnia’s estranged friends, a multiverse collapse, and an instalust romance. And all of those things are competently written, because Harrow is a good writer. But “refusing to talk about big life decisions” isn’t nearly as compelling a backstory as book one’s terminal illness, the romance moved far too quickly to grip me, and the collapsing multiverse element felt a little bit underbaked. It was just too much to try to cover in the space allotted, leading to pretty significant variance in the quality of the subplots and none of them quite getting the time they needed to shine.
It’s a short book that’s written well enough to make for an easy and enjoyable read. And the highlights are genuinely really good. But the consistency just isn’t quite at the level of the previous entry, leading to a read that was mostly fun but overall not up to Harrow’s high standard.
Recommended if you like: Harrow’s writing, feminist fairy tales.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Multiverses, as well as Myths and Retellings. It’s also a Sequel, a Novella, and a Book Club selection.
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.