Friday, January 21, 2011

White as Snow

Title: White as Snow
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: fairy tales, Snow White, insanity, rape, power, paganism, Christianity, Greek mythology, abandonment, love, forgiveness
Rating: ****

Plot: Once upon a time there was a mirror...

So begins this dark, unusual retelling of the story of Snow White by the writer reviewers have called "the Angela Carter of the fantasy field"-a whole novel based on a beloved story, turning it into a dark and sensual drama full of myth and magic.

Arpazia is the aging queen who paces the halls of a warlord's palace. Cold as winter, she has only one passion-for the mysterious hunter who courts the outlawed gods of the woodland. Coira is the princess raised in the shadow of her mother's hatred. Avoided by both her parents and half forgotten by her father's court, she grows into womanhood alone...until the mirror speaks and blood is spilled and the forest claims her.

The tragic myth of the goddess Demeter and her daughter, Persephone, stolen by the king of the underworld, is woven together with the tale of Snow White to create a powerful story of mothers and daughters and the blood that binds them together, for good or ill. Black Queen. White maid. Royal huntsman. Seven little folk who live in the forest. Come inside, sit by the fire, and listen to this fairy tale as you've never heard it told before.

My Thoughts: Honestly I'm not really sure what to say about this novel. It has several components that I am bound to adore-first of all it's written by Tanith Lee, also it's a fairy tale retelling, in addition to all that it also incorporates Greek mythology. It has intriguing, if not necessarily likable, characters (in fact, not a single character is truly likable). It has a bit of magic, a bit herblore, a bit of just plain insanity. It's entertaining-not romantic, not sweet, and certainly not mere fairy-tale fodder.

The majority of this book is actually centered around Arpazia, a stolen princess who is raped and then shunned by her warlord husband. The isolated girl grows into an obsessively cold and distant women who at times hates the daughter she sees only a few times over her entire life. Most of the time, she simply forgets she has one at all. Madness is essential to this character, a sort of cold hazy madness of a self-absorbed and abused woman. A later abortion confuses the evil mother even more, convincing her she has killed her child and now has none.

When Coira does become the center of the novel she is a teenager much like her mother, cold and distant. Neither woman has ever connected to anyone else on a human level, and to both other people don't truly exist. Coira is taken away by a man with seven dwarfs, who mutiny and set her up as a "master" they can control. They venture underground, to a mining city called the Underworld which is ruled by a mad prince who fancies himself Hades. It is here that Coira's life begins, where she falls in love, dies, marries, and is saved and taken back above ground. Of course, it is fairly easy to see the connection to Persephone here, and Lee makes that parallel very obvious by renaming Coira when she becomes princess of the underworld-Perspheh.

One again, Tanith Lee has fashioned amazing settings and borderline insane personalities that move the storyline along.

Recommendation: A very dark, and soemtimes lurid, retelling of Snow White that fully explains the evil (step)mother and her confused role in her daughter's death and rebirth. If you love dark fantasies or fairy tale re-tellings then this is a great read, I recommend it.

Similar Reads: Red as Blood, or, Tales from the Sisters Grimmer by Tanith Lee, Deerskin by Robin McKinley, Fitcher's Brides by Gregory Frost, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Lee, Tanith. White as Snow. New York: TOR, 2000.

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