Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Six-Gun Snow White (Catherynne M. Valente)

Six-Gun Snow White
Catherynne M. Valente
Saga Press
Fiction, Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Once upon a time, in a land where white men stole and killed and conquered in a ceaseless effort to quench their thirst for power, wealthy prospector Mr. H coveted a Crow maiden named Gun That Sings. They had a single child before she escaped by the only means left to her, leaving Mr. H a widower and her half-blood daughter alone in a world that had no place for her, not among the white men or the native tribes. The girl was hidden away from the world, left free to run in the wilds of her father's estate... until Ms. M came to be the new Mrs. H. Raised in Puritan hellfire, with a strange black mirror that holds the moon, she mockingly names the child Snow White after the skin and racial purity she'll never have, not for all the torments the woman lovingly bestows upon her. Thus unfolds a tale of love and hate, of magic mirrors and dark pacts, of wicked witches and not-so-innocent maidens, of the wild and harsh Old West and curses that even death cannot break.

REVIEW: Valente promises a unique, Western twist on the familiar fairy tale, and delivers that much in full. This story reaches beyond the sanitized Disney portrayals to the dark roots first recorded by the Brothers Grimm, where keeping a song in one's heart and having animal friends doesn't guarantee happy endings and handsome princes aren't always available for rescues. This Snow White is no fainting flower, but a girl born to a world that hates her, further broken and twisted by the warped, abusive attention of a woman who herself was warped and abused in the name of the Puritan God... a woman who only found some measure of escape by turning to the very forces her religious upbringing forbade. It's not a life for a lily-handed princess, and Snow White isn't a paragon of virtue herself, doing whatever it takes to survive with the imperfect tools and stunted, bruised heart she's been given. The tale takes several downright surreal turns, with wild Western towns and traces of Native American mythos amid elements of the original fairy tale, reworked yet still recognizable: the huntsman is a Pinkerton agent, the "seven dwarves" are a town of other broken women fleeing a world that has no place for them, and the infamous heart sequence makes for an unexpected plot twist. It ends on a peculiar note. Overall, while I enjoyed Valente's style and remarkable imagination, I was just a trifle too disturbed by some parts of the story to justify a full four-star rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Sisters Brothers (Patrick deWitt) - My Review
Wicked Women (Chris Enss) - My Review
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente) - My Review

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