Review | A Spindle Splintered – Alix E. Harrow

About the Book

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

128 pages (hardcover) 
Published on October 5, 2021
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I have this really bad habit of getting books on Netgalley and then thinking, “Yeah, I’ll remember to review them around release date” and then uh… not doing that. So, this review is a bit late, and I’m sorry for that. Life happens, and it happens with shocking regularity. I do the best I can. 

A Spindle Splintered is the first book I’ve read from Alix E. Harrow, and it will not be the last. I originally decided to go with this book because I absolutely love fairytale retellings (seriously, if I’ve said that once, I’ve said it a thousand times). Plus, I’ve heard a lot about her prose and I wanted to see them for myself. So, when you’ve got an author with killer prose writing a fairytale retelling, you’ve got something that puts my butt in the chair and keeps it there. 

This book came at me from a direction I didn’t anticipate. I’m used to fairytale retellings all sort of following a similar pattern, and this one absolutely didn’t do that. A Spindle Splintered is a novella, another thing I didn’t realize until after I’d finished reading it (I try to go into each book I read as uninformed as possible). Now, I really enjoy novellas. I think, a lot of times, they can be more powerful than novels, and that’s usually because the author has to shove as much story into fewer pages, so each bit of it is precisely measured for maximum impact. 

All of this works together to create a novella that really walloped me pretty good. It was a retelling unlike any I have ever read, written with evocative prose that occasionally hit like a hammer blow directly to the feels. What we have here is a book about someone with a chronic, terminal illness. Her name is Zinnia Gray, and it’s her twenty-first birthday. Zinnia, however, knows she won’t live to twenty-two. No one with this particular illness has ever lived that long, and so the book opens with a sort of heartrending, gut churning sorrow, a dark and ominous knowing. Her best friend wants to throw her a party to end all parties, and so she ends up celebrating her twenty-first birthday ala the Disney Princess Sleeping Beauty, in an abandoned castle, with a faulty spinning wheel, and her friends. 

Only, as you’d expect, things don’t quite end up how anyone expects them to. Zinnia pricks her finger and ends up spiraling out into the multiverse where all Sleeping Beauties who have ever been, and will ever be, dwell. Her story gets tangled up in that of another Sleeping Beauty who is desperate to avoid the fate she knows she is destined for. Together they spin through this multiverse on a quest to wrest themselves from fate. 

On its surface, this is an interestingly balanced book, with a relentless plot and constant forward motion. There’s wit and snark and love and friendship, passion and all the things that fuel it. Everything needed to make this a fun read is here. However, that’s balanced with weighty topics, like death, like terminal illness, like fate and all the discomfort fate provides. 

It’s in these darker notes where the book really shone, which shouldn’t be surprising because I tend to gravitate toward dark emotional themes. However, it is these darker aspects of the book that I felt were both understated and where the true magic of what Harrow was doing shows. Yes, A Spindle Splintered is fun, and yes, I enjoyed reading it, but the deeper themes of autonomy, choice, individual will, and destiny were what I found truly gripping, and seeing just how deftly Harrow worked them into her narrative without overpowering any of the lighter aspects was truly inspirational. 

At the core of it, Sleeping Beauty is a passive character. Her story is one of sleep, wherein she doesn’t even really appear to be the protagonist of her own story. Here, Harrow plays with that idea a bit, shows a multiverse of Sleeping Beauties, all of whom are eager, desperate, for something else. Some other fate. Some chance to be the protagonist in their story. Some small opportunity to make a choice of their own and see it through. 

It was powerful to see that theme underpinning the book itself. Powerful to see how Harrow dealt with it and used it as a tool to fuel her narrative. Ultimately, there are similarities between Zinnia’s fate, preparing for her death, her passive role in an active story, and her struggles to come to grips with all that is befalling her through no choice of her own, and that of Sleeping Beauty. It’s no wonder she spent much of her life obsessed with the story of Sleeping Beauty, and when she finally finds herself confronted with the story, her bond with Primrose, a Sleeping Beauty, is forged and is deep indeed. Despite their many differences, their similarities are fundamental.

Ultimately, A Spindle Splintered was a fantastic novella that balanced a fun story with deeper, darker themes. Harrow’s writing was superb, straddling the knife’s edge of lyrical and utilitarian. This novella sets up an interesting, unexpected series, and I cannot wait to see what happens next. 

5/5 stars