A Spindle Splintered is the feminist Sleeping Beauty retelling we’ve been waiting for

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow. Image courtesy Tordotcom Publishing
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow. Image courtesy Tordotcom Publishing /

If you’ve read any of Alix E. Harrow’s other books – the equally fabulous Ten Thousand Doors of January and The Once and Future Witches – then you already know she’s an author that’s uniquely talented at spinning a story that deftly manages to cross both worlds and times. It’s possible that she’s outdone herself with her thoroughly satisfying novella A Spindle Splintered, a story that puts a much-needed feminist spin on the tale of Sleeping Beauty.

The book, which moves through multiple realities and “versions” of the famous folktale, reimagines Sleeping Beauty as a story of empowerment and collaboration, giving the women at its center the agency the original so often robs its heroine of. The result is a delightful fairytale version of Into the Spiderverse, stuffed with nods to various forms of the original story alongside its entertainingly modern twists.

A Spindle Splintered follows the story of Zinnia Gray, who has a rare genetic disorder caused by an industrial accident before she was born. The condition is fatal and, thus far, no one with Generalized Roseville Malady has lived past their 22 birthday. And as Zinnia turns 21, she’s feeling as though she’s running out of time, like a clock is ticking down to the moment the curse she’s been waiting for all her life will finally kick in.

It’s probably no surprise that Zinnia has developed something of a fixation on the story of Sleeping Beauty, probably because there’s some part of her that wants to believe her own story might work out in a similar way, that somehow a prince or a witch or other magical figure could somehow alter her impending infinite sleep. But, fairytales aren’t real, right?

When Zinnia’s best friend Charm sets up a Sleeping Beauty-themed birthday party for her 21st – complete with a spinning wheel, a carpet of roses, and the tallest tower in the land. But when Zinnia jokingly pricks her finger on the spindle, she somehow falls into a different realm. One with a princess, a long-feared curse, and a dangerous spindle of its own. And as Zinnia fights to help Princess Primrose escape her fate, she hopes she’ll be able to change her own as well.

Harrow’s retelling happily flips many of the conventional tropes of the Sleeping Beauty story on their heads. Unlike the original tale, the women of A Spindle Splintered have plenty of agency and fight to make choices for themselves, even when it seems as though they’ll only ever be able to select between a bunch of bad options. There are LGBT characters and new perspectives on familiar narrative choices, and just all sorts of pleasant surprises throughout.

If I have one complaint about A Spindle Splintered it’s simply that I wish I could have read even more of it. As novellas go, it’s fairly normal in length, clocking in well shy of 150 pages. But the story is so full of rich descriptions and compelling characters, it’s hard not to want to see more of them. Personally, I’d have done a lot to get more time with Harrow’s not-as-wicked-as-she-seems take on Maleficent, here given the sort of rich depth and backstory that I would have loved to see in the Angelina Jolie Disney film(s).

Harrow had already established herself as a must-read author for me, and this fancifully conceived story only makes me more excited to see what she does next.

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A Spindle Splintered is available now.