Alix E. Harrow’s 2021 A Spindle Splintered is the first volume in the Fractured Fables series.
Twenty-one-year-old Zinnia Gray has her whole future ahead of her … which, thanks to the Generalized Roseville Malady she has lived with her entire life, will consist of the next few weeks. She is the last survivor of GRM and her disorder is very rapidly catching up with her.
This makes her 21st birthday party special, since she will not have a 22nd birthday.
Zinnia’s best friend Charm would like to save Zinnia. Absent that, Charm sets out to give Zinnia the best 21stbirthday party Zinnia could want. It’s a lavishly appointed Sleeping Beauty-themed party, complete with a spindle. The decorations are over the top but at this point in Zinnia’s life, there’s not point in holding anything back for later.
The party develops in directions unforeseen by Charm. In mid-party, Zinnia vanishes, drawn across universes by a plea for help. There are many universes, some more magical than others, and a wealth of Sleeping Beauties. Zinnia is one and her new host is another.
Princess Primrose of Perceforest’s life story follows the usual pattern: cursed at birth to suffer a terrible fate at twenty-one; whereas Zinnia’s curse is a purely mundane lethal side-effect of industrialization, Primrose is the more standard “cursed by a fairy to fall into a deep sleep at age twenty-one.” Primrose is desperate to avoid this. Desperate enough to draw Zinnia from one world to another.
The tools available to a terminally ill young woman from a universe without a jot of magic are limited. However, Zinnia does have pluck to spare. Thus, she suggests she and Primrose seek out the fairy responsible for the curse, braving all the hazards between them and the culprit.
It’s a bold plan whose only flaw, hardly worth mentioning, is that Primrose has misunderstood the nature of her situation. The curse she is determined to break is the only defense between Primrose and a fate worse than a century of sleep.
A moment of silence for the zinger I came up incorporating “Charm” that I subsequently forgot.
There was a minor mystery solved as soon as I actually read this. Spindle is a novella, only 128 pages long. But the epub edition of it is almost 20 megabytes, about fifty times as large as an ebook of this length should be. Had Tor discovered some horrifying new epub that occupies even more space than a pdf would? No, as it turns out. The novel is lavishly illustrated, which greatly increases the file size.
This is not so much a variation on Sleeping Beauty as it is every possible version of Sleeping Beauty all at once. There have been many variations on the basic story: the fairy responsible for Primrose’s curse, for example, is named Zellandine, from a version of Sleeping Beauty you will be happier not googling. There’s a reason why this story keeps reappearing in various universes.
This is a lot more upbeat than “dying girl meets doomed princess” would suggest. Zinnia is not at all happy that an bunch of investors carried out a cunning plan that left a lot of kids, Zinnia among them, doomed to sharply curtailed lifespans. However, Zinnia prefers not to vow revenge on the unnamed investors and to instead live so as to get the most out of the life she has left.
(Romance is not part of her plan; no doomed romance, no possible rejection by the sort of person who is not up to having a terminally ill significant other.)
As is customary with the better sort of novellas, Spindle is as long as it needs to be but no longer. Brevity does not appear to have led Harrow to skimp on character development. Her prose was just as enjoyable as it was in her novels. I wanted a short, enjoyable book to read and this is just that.