At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this story. I was sold by a feminist retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but when I started reading I realized how heavily influenced by Disney versions of fairy tales and the Spider-verse this was and I started thinking it was too Millennial for me. Yes, I am one, but I’m at the back end of the generation and my sensibilities are not superhero and Disney, but more old-school folk tales and the science of quantum parallel universes.
But I love Alix Harrow’s writing style, and it was only a novella, so I took a deep breath and pressed on through the assault on the meta senses. I found myself rather enjoying the story, in the end. Revealing too much of why I enjoyed it would give away too many spoilers for such a short book. But let’s just say that the Disney movie ‘verse was just one parallel universe, the parallel universe that meant something to the main character.
Let me back up first, though. This is the story of Zinnia Gray on her twenty-first birthday. Zinnia has her own Sleeping Beauty story, afflicted with a rare and uncurable deadly disease from early childhood. Her best friend, Charm, and her parents want to make this the best birthday ever for her, because they know it’s her last. Zinnia is so obsessed with fairy tales that she went to college early to major in folklore. The Sleeping Beauty tale was always her favorite, because only dying girls like Sleeping Beauty. Charm sets up a sleeping-beauty birthday party for her best friend, complete with a spinning wheel. When Zinnia pricks her finger, she tumbles through time.
The story eventually grew on me, because of the aforementioned spoilers. It is quite Millennial but not as obnoxiously Millennial as I feared. This is a meta fairy tale book for people who are in love with stories and the magic that narrative has over our lives. I also really loved the illustrations. I bought the hardcover edition and almost every page is illustrated by Arthur Rackham, who also gets a meta mention in the story, to blow your mind even further. I really like to see books like this that break the bounds of storytelling, halfway between a graphic novel and a proper novella.
Overall, this was just a fun, refreshing read, something to curl up with by a crackling fire with the snow outside and forget about the world for awhile. This is going to be a series of fractured fairy tale novellas and I don’t think I loved it enough to keep going in the series, but for the right reader this would be the perfect blend of escapism, feminism and charm.