Featured Review | Six-Gun Snow White – Catherynne M. Valente

About the Book

New York Times bestselling author offers a brilliant reinvention of one of the best-known fairy tales of all time with Snow White as a gunslinger in the mythical Wild West.

Forget the dark, enchanted forest. Picture instead a masterfully evoked Old West where you are more likely to find coyotes as the seven dwarves. Insert into this scene a plain-spoken, appealing narrator who relates the history of our heroine’s parents—a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. Although her mother’s life ended as hers began, so begins a remarkable tale: equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, this is an utterly enchanting story…at once familiar and entirely new.

160 pages (hardcover)
Published on November 10, 2015 by Saga Press
Previously published on February 28, 2013 by Subterranean Press
Author’s webpage
Buy the book

 This book was sent by Saga Press in exchange for an honest review.

I think God used up his stores of talent the day that Catherynne Valente was born.

Everyone knows the story of Snow White. Not everyone knows the story of Snow White as told by Valente. Because, damn, folks. You’ve gotta check this one out.

My life is really, really hectic right now. It’s taking me about four times longer to read a book than normal because of all that’s going on. However, I read this one in one sitting. I made time for this book, and from the first page I was absolutely enchanted by it.

The first half of the book is told from Snow White’s perspective. She’s a brutally honest narrator, with a rugged, memorable voice that seems to strip herself and everything around her down to its heart. She has a shockingly powerful voice due to that, and her portion of the story absolutely emotionally eviscerated me (in the best possible way).

This story, in a lot of ways, is kind of ironic. Snow White is named such not for her high status and white skin, but as an ideal thrust upon her by her stepmother, who saw beauty as white skin. Snow White’s life isn’t anything anyone would really want. Her father is a silver tycoon who really doesn’t have the time or desire to take care of a child. Snow White’s only real friend are the animals around her as a child, a fox, a bear, a bird. It’s a lonely life, and an isolated one.

That loneliness and painful isolation is felt throughout the book. Snow White doesn’t really belong anywhere, and her otherness is part of what defines her and makes her so memorable, though its shaping of her is painful. As Snow White grows, she seems to become more and more isolated in a wide world that really has no room for a half-breed such as herself. Her stepmother is horrible, and some of her descriptions of her stepmother’s treatment brought tears to my eyes. There is a chapter where Snow White discusses what she thought love was when she was a child, and it tore me apart. It’s rare than an author can gut-punch me with those powerful emotions, but Valente can, and she does.

The second half of the book is told from an unspecified third person narrator, and is just as powerful as the first half, if a bit less intimate. It’s important to view the rest of the story from an omnipotent perspective, as a lot is going on. All of the elements of Snow White’s traditional story are here, but they are turned on their head, twisted, and completely different than you’d expect. For example, Charming, instead of being a prince, is the horse she uses to escape. The reason her stepmother needs Snow White’s heart is nothing short of genius. The reason Snow White falls asleep is also well thought out, introspective, and absolutely perfect for the novel. The ending left gasping because it was so perfect.

Snow White is a capable young woman, running from an isolated and horrible childhood into an uncertain future, chasing the ghosts of her past. The west is a wide, wild place which Valente brings to life. There is just enough magic to please fantasy fans, and make this an interesting crossover novel for fiction fans who don’t mind something a bit offbeat. The world is rough, and Snow White finds herself in the middle of a lot of tricky situations for a woman traveling on her own.

At the heart of this novella is the story of a rather tortured young woman who has to save herself, and that’s what I love about it. Snow White doesn’t need a prince to rescue her, and sometimes fairy tales don’t end the way you expect them to, and that’s okay. Snow White saves herself, and the story is absolutely captivating, and emotionally jarring on some pretty fundamental levels.

However, if I have to say one thing about this novel, it’s that these are some of the best, most quotable, poetic prose I’ve ever read. Ever. I don’t know how one woman can write this well, but Valente can, and I’m absolutely shocked by the powerful magnitude of her talent. There was a point pretty early on in the book were I wished I’d read this one on my Kindle so I didn’t have to write down all the quotable passaged. My hand was getting tired.

I love fairytale retellings, and I love good writing, but I’ve never really been bowled over by either of those things like I was with this novel. Six-Gun Snow White was powerful, emotionally eviscerating, and so very deep. This is one of the most perfect books I’ve read in years. I can’t stop thinking about it.


9,568,253/5 stars

One Responses

  • Coyotes as seven dwarves? That sounds interesting.
    The name and story seem attractive. I hope this makeover meets my expectations, as I have enjoyed Snow White while I was a kid. It’s great that the Kindle edition is so much cheaper now.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.