Series: The Fairy Tale Series
Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Pub. Date: 1989
Genres: Modern Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
The Fairy Tale Series was created by Terri Windling with the intent of growing a collection of original fairy tale retellings. Patricia C. Wrede joined the series with Snow White and Rose Red. The two daughters of the Widow Arden, Rosamund and Blanche, obey their mother and gather herbs to help them survive in their Elizabethan English town. The widow does all she can to prevent rumors of witchcraft from spreading to them. Two princes of Faerie, both half-mortal, catch up when the elder returns from the mortal realm, but their meeting is broken up by two mortal sorcerers who steal the younger’s magic, transforming the prince into a bear. The bear wanders to the widow’s house. Can the girls and the older brother save the bear from the spell? Snow White and Rose Red tells the tale again with teen girls and the presence of the brother through the whole story.
I was in the mood to read fantasy and to silence the book calling me from the shelf, so I picked up the pocket-size novel with the intent of carrying it everywhere. This was a remarkable retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales. I didn’t expect it to grab me like it did, but I was hooked immediately.
I like the Snow White and Rose Red fairy tale, and I liked that each chapter started with a excerpt from the original fairy tale. I liked that Wrede took advantage of using Faerie in Elizabethan England. It provided background for all of the characters and added another magic system. One aspect that was interesting was that there were competing magic systems: mortal and Fae. Then there are worries about witch hunts. The magic system added beautifully to the conflict.
I was surprised by the large number of developed major and minor characters. Rose Red and Snow White, who were aged up, have enough differences in their personalities that it is easy to tell them apart since they are hardly apart. They also maintain obedience and loyalty to a point that is expected for the day and enough defiance to make them interesting. Their mother has a surprisingly large role in the book. Unlike the fairy tale, both the bear and his brother have prominent roles in the story.
Most of the POV switches go directly to main characters who are well-developed, but sometimes it felt like there were too many different perspectives. We even follow the villains, who represent the dwarf of the fairy tale. While I did not come to like or feel sympathetic towards them, their actions and motivations were clear and helped make this a character-driven story.
I have avoided most novels that have dialogue in what looks like a Medieval or Elizabethan way of speaking (e.g. using “an” instead of “if”) because it is hard for me to follow. But it worked well to have that type of dialogue in this novel. The dialogue helped build their village in Elizabethan England, and I could believe that the Fae would speak that way too. The narration was modern, which kept me from hating the dialogue.
The themes play out in all of the characters. The balance between obedience and defiance is what drives the conflicts. A theme of misunderstanding appears between communication, lack of knowledge, and the blinders-on focus of the characters on their desires. A third theme is the maintenance of reputation. Because suspicion of witchcraft could get you killed during the Renaissance, all of the characters have to take care with maintaining good reputations.
While I believe this is an exceptional retelling, I have read few retellings of “Snow White and Rose Red,” and all those, except this novel, were short stories or picture books. If you like reading retellings, try Patricia C. Wrede’s Snow White and Rose Red.