• The Good: A spider-verse of sleeping beauties
  • The Bad: Some plotting and resolution issues
  • The Literary: Lots of fairy and folk tale references!

Ever since Zinnia Gray was a little girl, she loved the story of Sleeping Beauty, partially because Zinnia feels she cannot outrun her own fate. When she was young, an industrial accident left her with a rare illness, and no one with the condition has ever lived past their twenty-second birthday. On the night of her twenty-first and last birthday, her best friend Charm decorates a tower in a Sleeping Beauty theme, complete with a spinning wheel. When Zinnia pricks her finger, she’s transported to a different world out of a fairy tale.

In principle, I love every sort of portal story where someone is transported to another world, has an adventure, learns a lesson or two, and sees their own desires and obstacles in a new light. A Spindle Splintered is no exception, it’s sweet and hopeful and full of friendship. In the author’s words, it’s the spider-verse with sleeping beauties, which is appropriate.

As you might imagine, this re-imagining takes a tale about a woman who is destined to be a wilting flower, trapped by fate until a handsome prince kisses her awake, and transforms it into a story about agency and empowerment and a hunger for more than what life gives you.

It’s queer and feminist, but there is a missed opportunity during the climax to bring in a trans, or at least a gender-neutral version of sleeping beauty. The story is also very contemporary, with references to pop culture, which will date it in a few years. The magic isn’t entirely self-consistent: Zinnia has a smart phone which she is mysteriously able to use across the multi-verse, but at least the phone’s battery is a countdown that keeps the pacing strong. The climax is clumsy and the denouement too neat, especially in regard to Zinnia’s illness. Despite all that, I really like this story.

It’s the ideas that linger that make this novella special. Zinnia is trapped by her illness, as we are all destined to be at some point in our lives, fated and cursed to die young. But it’s the invisible cages we create for ourselves that limit and trap us. We’re all thrust into this world with different abilities and opportunities. Many of us are always looking for something better, or imagining how it all might fall apart, or hiding away something we’re so desperate to unsee. It’s easy to overlook those we love and forget that friendship is about both reaching out and opening up. It’s easy to forget that in the real-world hope and love and magic come from within.

Highly recommended for fans of fairy tales and Disney movies and happy endings!