A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow

Read August 2022
Recommended for fans of the Scholomance
★   ★   ★   1/2

Fairy tales and I go way back. For a little perspective, you have to remember I’m the Disney Classic era, so I’m not talking movie fairy tales as much as deep dives into Lang’s color fairy books, and every book on fairy tales, witches, and elves carried by the local library. I went through the requisite feminist re-telling phase in my late teens and twenties, but quickly burned out and moved on as urban fantasy began to really make strides into the book world. So it was with both hope and apprehension that I picked up Harrow’s second installment in her ‘fractured fairy tale’ series, A Mirror Mended. I missed the first book in the series, but what the heck; if it was written well, that most likely wouldn’t matter, right?

It did not.

Told in first person from the perspective of a modern woman in her early twenties, it kept me entertained–and somewhat bemused by the emotionally self-aware tone:

“I’ve spent the last five years of my life diving through every iteration of Sleeping Beauty, chasing the echoes of my own shitty narrative through time and space and making it a little less shitty, like a cross between Doctor Who and a good editor.”

It is the sort of writing that could have become grating, that self-mocking, culturally-rooted language, if it didn’t have a solid emotional growth. Like many people early in their development, Zinnia understands the need to free herself and others from their role obligations but hasn’t yet developed her compassion and understanding enough to extend it to the villainous women in the stories:

“I think unwillingly of all the other roles the queen was given: the ugly princess, the barren queen, the foreign monarch. A string of women with just enough power to be hated and not quite enough to protect themselves. I swallow a lump of inconvenient sympathy.”

The Evil Queen from Snow White challenges her in ways that Zinnia finds completely unexpected.

“She gives me such a mild look that I bristle defensively. “Hey, I’m not—it’s not like that. I’m helping people fix their stories. And if they can’t be fixed, I help them escape.”

“Oh, I quite understand.” Her tone turns acidic, blackly triumphant. “But then, I’m the villain.” I don’t say anything in my defense, because there’s not much to say. Maybe I’m the villain too.”

Because I’m old, I found the Queen and the plot less unexpected than Zinnia, but Harrow still managed a couple of engaging twists. It’s definitely one of the more entertaining–and palatable–modernized takes on fairy tales. I’m thinking particularly of The School for Good and Evil, which recently gained a lot of attention, and exists at the opposite end of the spectrum of clever (and woke).

Having missed the first novella in the series, I found a jump back to current-Earth timeline/universe less compelling, but the rest of the story was compelling. The current timeline does feel like kitchen sink of ‘woke,’ which is not an observation I make lightly. Perhaps it’s more congruent with the first novella

Had it not been for that section, it would have been an easy 4+ stars, as it is, it’s a more lukewarm 3.5. The porridge is almost–but not quite–just right.

“Good morning!” God save me from princesses and their exclamation points.


About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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