‘A Spindle Splintered’ gives Disney princesses their own ‘Spider-Verse’

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow pits the modern against the classic as we see the tale of Sleeping Beauty in a completely different light.

The multiverse is all the rage these days, with Loki and What If…? season 1 coming to their respective conclusions and Doctor Strange 2 on the horizon. And, of course, we can’t forget Into the Spider-Verse.

It’s that concept—a fairy tale Spider-Verse—that started author Alix E. Harrow on this journey. And it’s that concept that made me instantly add this book to my to-be-read list. There are few things I like more in this universe (or the next) than multiple realities and twisted tales.

A Spindle Splintered gave me both in the same book. Really, it was a no-brainer.

Our heroine is Zinnia Gray, and she’s not likely to get a happy ending. It’s her 21st birthday, which will probably be her last. You see, she’s been diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease, and while none of us will live forever, her countdown clock is shorter than most.

It makes sense, then, that Zinnia grew up obsessed with the story of Sleeping Beauty. And not just one story—all of them. Briar Rose and Aurora and Zellandine, just to name a few. No matter how you spin it, the story of Sleeping Beauty is about a woman cursed, one who had no say in her own future, one destined to succumb to sleep before her time.

Therefore, Zinnia’s best friend, Charm, vows to make her 21st birthday the best one ever. Zin might be a little older for a Disney princess birthday party, but that’s not going to stop Charm. The end result is full of crowns and towers and, yes, even a spinning wheel.

But when Zin pricks her finger on the end of the spindle, she’s transported into another place and time—one where Sleeping Beauty is more than just a fairy tale.

When I picked up this novella, I was relieved to see it was under 150 pages. No matter how many books I read in a month, I can never catch up on my TBR list. At least I knew this one would be a quick read. Something I could cross off my list—and hopefully enjoy in the process.

What I wasn’t expecting is to want more. Don’t get me wrong, this is a perfect novella from start to finish. It’s just long enough to be a complete story, but short enough that you don’t get bogged down in the details required of a full-length novel. The action keeps moving and the pages keep turning and all of a sudden you’re left needing more.

Luckily, this is only the first in Harrow’s Fractured Fables series. The second book, A Mirror Mended, will hit store shelves on June 14, 2022. And I’ll be the first in line. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

It’s hard to know where to start with A Spindle Splintered. I don’t want to give too much away, and yet I need to convince you this book is worth your time. I guess that’s in the literal job description, but you’d think it’d get easier after nearly a decade of writing book reviews.

a spindle splintered cover

When Zinnia lands in the other world, she meets Primrose, a version of Sleeping Beauty that should be all too familiar for those of us who grew up on Disney movies. While it’s not an exact match, the main beats are the same.

Only, Zin’s presence saves Primrose from her supposedly inevitable fate. That night, she doesn’t prick her finger on the spindle, and the following day, the story goes off-book, so to speak.

The rest of A Spindle Splintered is about Zinnia trying to save Primrose, get home, and maybe cure her disease in the process. There are a lot of ups and downs, starts and stops, hopes and dashed dreams.

The entire book is a roller coaster of emotion. On the one hand, you want Zinnia to get home to Charm, to her parents, the rest of her life (even if it’s bound to be short-lived), but on the other hand, you can’t help but hope she can change her fate. Sleeping Beauty might sleep for a hundred years, but she wakes up eventually—right?

Zin finds distraction in this fairy tale universe, but the inevitable is just around the corner. Without her medicine, she continues to get sick. She didn’t have much time left anyway, but now it’s truly a race against the clock.

As with most people whose days are numbered, acceptance is usually the best course of action to enjoy the time you have left. Zin is afraid to hope—as are we—that there could be an alternative solution. And as she fights for a reality she never thought possible, we can’t help but cheer her on.

Zin and Charm are the kind of best friends that—sorry, I can’t help myself—fairy tales are made of. They’re honest and supportive and annoying and perfect and too much and just enough all at the same time. They’ll go to the ends of the earth (or other realities) for each other. When Zin wants to give up hope, Charm refuses to let her.

Primrose is delicate and regal and otherworldly, and yet she’s not exactly like the fairy tale princesses we’ve encountered before. She’s fully-formed and three-dimensional. She’s complicated and surprising. She’s vulnerable and strong and determined.

And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you, let it be known that this story is more than just a little queer.

A Spindle Splintered forces us to view the story of Sleeping Beauty from both a modern and a classic perspective. On the one hand, Zin is aware of how many Disney princess tales place the heroine in a secondary role to the man who saves her life. On the other hand, this is real for Primrose, and she must follow the etiquette expected of her as a woman and a princess.

At once, Spindle is a fun thought experiment—its very own What If—but it’s also a commentary on the very stories that many of us grew up on. It’s a challenge to do better in the future, to show those of us who are now adults that we can make our own fate and that maybe the picturesque vista society tried to force down our throats wasn’t so perfect after all.

But we don’t need perfection. What we want is a choice.

This book made me laugh and cry in turn, sometimes on the very same page. There are passages and lines of dialog that are literally laugh-out-loud funny, and at the same time, reading it is like falling into someone else’s existential crisis.

Zin’s life isn’t fair, but she’s doing the best she can. And isn’t that all we can hope for?

A Spindle Splintered feels like a fully contained story with an ending (even if it isn’t totally a happily-ever-after), and yet it opens the door to something more. I can’t wait to read A Mirror Mended next year and find out whose fairy tale gets fixed next.

‘A Spindle Splintered’ hit store shelves on October 5, 2021

Buy A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow from Macmillan, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Amazon, or add it to your Goodreads list.