A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the second of the Fractured Fables series, continuing the story of Zinnia Gray, the dying young woman who accidentally found her way into the multiverse. Specifically, she found her way into a multiverse of stories and fairy tales, and her fairy tale was Sleeping Beauty. She rescued one beauty, Primrose, from her crappy story and brought her back to Earth, where Primrose fell in love with Zinnia's best friend Charmaine (or Charm for short, heh heh). The act of moving between the universes also apparently sent Zinnia's fatal genetic disease into remission, and at the story's end she was taking it on herself to use the time she had been given to free other Sleeping Beauties from their stories.
This novella takes up Zinnia's story five years later, after she has freed forty-nine other beauties from their stories. This volume is just as beautifully written as the first, but the tone is more melancholy and bittersweet. As in the first volume, a character in a story reaches out and yanks Zinnia into another universe--but instead of another Sleeping Beauty, this is a character in a rather darker fairy tale altogether: it's the Evil Queen from Snow White. She and Zinnia immediately butt heads, but Eva, as Zinnia names her, wants the same thing as the other characters: to be freed from this story and her terrible fate.
"Then tell me how to get out of this damned story." The queen's voice is ragged, pushed far beyond exhaustion but still unwilling to bend. It would be admirable if it weren't extremely annoying. "Tell me, and I swear I'll stop."
"Now is not the time for your crude fantasies!" She climbs unsteadily to her feet, takes two wavering steps in my direction. "You have no idea what it's like to fight for your own right to exist. To know yourself doomed, yet to keep striving--"
I throw a wad of leaves at her. "Cry me a fucking river, woman. You just found out how your story ends last week. I've spent my whole life under a death sentence."
The queen is clawing wet leaves out of her hair, teeth flashing white in the gloom. "You think I haven't?" Her voice is a strangled hiss. "I may not have known about the iron shoes, but I was always headed for a bad ending. I was an ugly second daughter with uncanny power, and then I was a foreign bride who bore no heirs. Now I am a queen who is feared only slightly more than she is hated, and my time is up. But I have fought tooth and nail to survive, and no pretty little princess is going to stop me."
This little monologue leaves me with two not entirely comforting sensations. The first is the sudden, lurching shame of my worldview being wrenched out of shape, as it occurs to me that Snow White might not be the only victim here.
This is Eva's story, but it is also the continuation of Zinnia's, as she discovers her story-hopping has done damage to the multiverse. I don't think the theme of this story can be reduced to something as simplistic as Zinnia needs to grow up, but she has been using her travels to escape her friends and the ramifications of her own story, and Eva confronting her story makes Zinnia realize she has to do the same. Of course, along the way Zinnia and the evil queen fall in love, and Eva writes out an entirely new story for herself, creating a new universe Zinnia cannot stay in, at least not now. At the end Eva comes up with a bit of a "cheat code" which holds out hope that someday she and Zinnia will be reunited.
I don't know if this is the end of the Fractured Fables series, but it feels like it, which makes me sad. I would have loved to follow Zinnia through all manner of multiversal fairy tales (I can just imagine what the author would do with Little Red Riding Hood, or Cinderella). Still, these two books are lovely reads.
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