Fractured Fables, #2: A Mirror Mended
By: Alix E. Harrow
Published: June 14, 2022
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Retellings, Folklore, Sequel
WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers from A Spindle Splintered. You have been warned.
…I spent the first twenty-one years of my life being Zinnia Grey the Dying Girl, killing time until my story ended. I’m still technically dying (hey, aren’t we all), and my home-world life isn’t making headlines…I may not have much of a happily ever after, but I’m going to give away as many as I can before I go, (1).
“Happily Ever After” is one of the most—or, possibly the—popular ending for all stories (after, “The End”). This ending is common in fairy tales, or Märchen, in that the protagonist(s) gain everything they want, heroes are rewarded, villains are punished, etc., and the story ends. Lately, in speculative fiction, especially in fantasy and in folklore, narratives are presenting either alternative endings to “Happily Ever After,” or what occurs after that pinnacle moment for the remaining characters, especially to those who did not get the ending they wanted. Alix E. Harrow reintroduces us to her characters from A Spindle Splintered, and continues their story in the sequel, A Mirror Mended, so that her audience can experience who is living out their “Happily Ever After.”
We’re reintroduced to Zinnia Grey, who has managed to live another 5 years thanks to her actions during her first adventure. That is correct. Zinnia’s 1st adventure. Ever since Zinnia saved both Primrose—a.k.a. “Sleeping Beauty”—and herself from their fates, Zinnia has been dissatisfied with the “extra time” she’s been granted. Understandably, Zinnia is upset because she still has the disease which will kill her later instead of sooner. Yet, Zinnia cannot accept that she was NOT cured of her disease. So, instead of facing her problems as she’s done before, Zinnia decides to keep traveling to as many incarnations of “Sleeping Beauty” as she is able to and helping those protagonists gain the “Happily Ever After” they want—or, what she believes they want. After one of Zinnia’s escapades, she looks at a mirror, and instead of her sickly reflection, Zinnia sees a woman staring back at her. The woman grabs Zinnia by the arm and pulls her through the mirror. After regaining her composure, Zinnia realizes she’s no longer in the “Sleeping Beauty” multiverse. In fact, the woman who needs Zinnia’s help is not an innocent princess, but an evil queen. It doesn’t take long for Zinnia to figure out she’s been pulled into the multiverse of “Snow White.” This evil queen—and wicked stepmother—has learned her fate and she demands Zinnia help her escape her fate the same way Zinnia helped the others. Now, Zinnia—a folklore scholar—has no intention of helping an evil queen, especially after the said evil queen has performed the actions which have led her to her current predicament. However, similar to Zinnia running away from her fate, the Evil Queen is doing the same thing. Yes, the reasons are at opposite ends, but the Evil Queen’s desire to live is as relatable and as complex as Zinnia’s. Zinnia is forced to assist the villain with escaping her fate across the “Snow White” multiverse, but Zinnia has no interest in helping her live believes the Evil Queen deserves her fate. Then again, who put Zinnia in charge of someone else’s narrative?
The plot in this story is similar yet different from the previous one. In this narrative, Zinnia finds herself navigating the multiverse of “Snow White,” which is a narrative with its own variations and tropes. This time Zinnia has been asked to be the “hero” for someone Zinnia believes does not deserve it. However, as Zinnia and the Evil Queen travel from one variant of “Snow White” to another one, Zinnia begins to realize how “altered” some of the variants are compared to the more familiar ones. There is a subplot in this narrative and the focus is how Zinnia’s actions have affected everyone—including her relationship with her former friend, Charm—and everything within the multiverse; how did the Evil Queen know about Zinnia? This subplot is necessary for the plot because it links the events going back 5 years together with what’s happening right now.
Once again, the narrative is in 1st person from Zinnia’s point-of-view in the present. Zinnia’s stream-of-consciousness is still essential because of her knowledge of what is happening to her and around her, and her reaction to her current situation and the impact and the influence her actions have caused for everyone else. Zinnia is a reliable narrator because she chooses to face the consequences her actions have caused for everyone—and, I do mean everyone.
The style Alix E. Harrow uses in A Mirror Mended is similar to A Spindle Splintered. The similarities are the readers experience more variants of fairy tales—this time “Snow White”—as the protagonist decides whether or not to “fracture” these tales so the character in question can have their “Happily Ever After.” The obvious difference is the character seeking a happy ending, the Evil Queen. In recent years, there have been popular media which presented the idea of a “multiverse,” and the concept of the “sympathetic villain”—most of them from Marvel and DC. While it is obvious as to why the evil queen is the villain, an argument is made about her actions; and, a similar argument is made about Zinnia and the cost of her actions on the fairy tale multiverse due to her agency role. I should mention, as someone who studied folklore, the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index is a real thing, and it is a fun tool to use when researching Märchen. The mood in this story is fear. Both Zinnia and the Evil Queen are running away from what they fear most—and, it’s not exactly what you believe it is. This leads to the tone of this narrative, which is acceptance. While it is understandable why both of these women want to keep running away from their problems, sooner or later they must figure out a compromise and accept their reality.
The appeal for A Mirror Mended will be positive. Fans of A Spindle Splintered will be satisfied with this sequel, especially how it ties into the first book. Answers to questions from the previous book are answered in this one. I want to mention that I’m glad the author explored another popular, yet unknown fairy tale variants in this series. I say this because it seems many individuals are familiar with the many variants of “Cinderella,” but both “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White” are not explored as often when compared to the aforementioned tale. Anyone who enjoys fairy tales, fairy tale retellings, and folklore—especially books by Jane Yolen, Robin McKinley, Naomi Novik, Katherine Arden, Vaishnavi Patel and Ava Reid—will enjoy the conclusion to this duology the most.
A Mirror Mended is clever and entertaining sequel in this creative series. Alix E. Harrow presents a strong follow up to her “modern” fairy tale, which reminds her audience how much these tales have continued to impact all of us. Fractured Fables is another example as to why adults continue to create such tales. Harrow reminds us that we’re never too old to desire (new) fairy tales.
My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!