Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publisher: Saga Press
Published: February 28, 2013
Number of Pages: 160
Genre(s): Western, Fractured Fairy-tale
Date Read: August 18-21, 2016
There are no dark and enchanted forests on the American Frontier; there are mines and ranches and big, open wild places. In the Old West there's danger around every corner, but money a plenty if you know how to make it, and money can get you power, which gets you anything you want. This is a lesson a Nevada Silver Baron learned well. When Mr. H came to Montana he found himself transfixed by a beautiful Cree woman, and he wanted her, he wanted her bad. So he did whatever was necessary until he got her. Gun That Sings died as her daughter came into the world, and I suspect that this is a crime her father never fully forgave her for. Oh he loved her right enough in his own way, but not enough to ever own up to the fact that she was in actual his daughter.
This is the story of that half-native half-white girl's life, a girl who has no real place in the world.
After a childhood spent hidden away and trotted out as an exotic oddity like the animals in her personal zoo a very wicked stepmother comes into her life. That mean, strange woman decided to name her Snow White to mock her for the white skin she'd never have. She brings wondrous and inexplicable magic into Snow White's life driving Snow White to run away and try and fend for herself in the wild frontier. Her step mother wants her out of the way and will stop at nothing to find her and end her life. Along the way Snow White meets unlikely allies and learns some harsh life lessons.
This book is simultaneously too short and too long. It's too long because it spends so very much time building up to the familiar events of Snow White running away and living with seven kindly strangers, who in this case are seven outlaws. Then once she finally reaches that point on page 103 the story becomes entirely too rushed to get to the climax and we barely even get to know these strangers in any real sense! We start the story in this novel with Snow White's conception and birth, we get to see her whole childhood growing up as a half-Cree, half-White girl whose father is ashamed of her but also does seem to love her and care about her in his own way (he wants her to be a secret and doesn't tell anyone she's his daughter, but in general she wants for absolutely nothing). Eventually the cruel stepmother shows up with the "magic" mirror (which even by the end I still didn't 100% understand, it was a very strange magic mirror) that she uses to spy on Snow White as she grows up. We never actually find out Snow White's real name, Snow White is a cruel mocking name bestowed on her by the step mother. The one really good thing that I liked about this version of the Snow White character compared to other versions I have read or watched is that she was strong enough and clever enough to take care of herself and make her own way for quite awhile before she joined up with the 7 strangers (who are also women in this book - it's a very female driven novel!).
The imagery and descriptions in this book are beautiful, that's one of the things it really has going for it. It's well written, it's written in the first person point of view and Snow White is the narrator and she does a pretty good job of it for a character that really doesn't know what's going around her a good 75% of the time and who doesn't have enough knowledge of the world or magic to really understand everything she encounters. The narrators limits are also therefore the readers, the reason we walk away with no real understanding of the mirrors magic is because Snow White doesn't understand it. And I'm still not 100% certain what happened at the ending...time travel? That comes completely out of nowhere and makes no sense to me.
Overall if you're a fan of traditional Snow White I'd say skip it. If you're a fan of experimental works check it out. I honestly feel like it would have made a better graphic novel than it did a novel. This story feels much better suited to a visual medium to me.