Welcome back to Fairy Tale Friday! Today we are taking a look at the second “Snow White” retelling of this feature: The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine. You can take a look at my post on Girls Made of Snow and Glass here. So let’s jump right in!
My Rating: 3 stars
Warning: Contains spoilers
As a Retelling:
Like Melissa Bashardoust in Girls Made of Snow and Glass, Redwine draws exclusively on the German version of the tale. Most “Snow White” retellings I’ve read do as well; it’s probably because the Brothers Grimm tale is the only well-known version of the story, unlike other stories that have several popular variations. The prologue starts out the same way the original tale does: Princess Lorelai’s mother dies and her father remarries a woman who turns out to be evil. However, unlike in the fairy tale, the stepmother, Irina, is not immediately hostile toward Lorelai. In fact, she is quite fond of her because they are both magic users, called mardushka. Irina uses magic to control the king and everyone else in the kingdom; when Lorelai realizes what’s going on, she uses her own magic to break Irina’s control. Irina proceeds to kill the king and use her magic to bring the castle down around them. Lorelai is able to escape along with her brother, Leo, and one of the guards, Gabril. We move forward several years to see Lorelai grown up. She, Leo, and Gabril live in hiding as outlaws, which reminded me of Once Upon a Time. During this time, Gabril trains the siblings so they can eventually retake the kingdom. These years in hiding appear to be Redwine’s equivalent to Snow White’s time with the dwarves. Like the queen in the fairy tale, Irina believes Lorelai is dead. However, unlike the queen, she does not find out Lorelai is alive through the magic mirror. Since Irina’s magic permeates through everything is Ravenspire, Lorelai wears special gloves so she doesn’t come into direct contact with anything. This keeps Irina’s mirror from sensing her. She doesn’t find out Lorelai is alive until the girl removes her gloves and touches the ground to perform magic.
Lorelai does have the complexion Snow White is famous for–lips red as blood, skin white as snow, and hair black as ebony–and as in the fairy tale, it relates back to her mother. In the Grimm version of the tale, Snow White’s mother is sewing by an ebony window on a winter day and pricks her finger, drawing blood. She is struck by the beauty of the colors together and wishes for a child with those features. Lorelai receives these traits through simple genetics; her mother has them as well. However, the imagery appears in the moment of her mother’s death; Irina uses magic to use a tree to crush Lorelai’s mother, causing her blood to spill onto the white show and breaking the ebony carriage she is in to pieces. The three together are the last things she sees, and in her dying moments, she sends her magic through the ground to Lorelai, the one with lips red as blood, skin white as snow, and hair black as ebony. This causes Lorelai to have double the power of any other mardushka, making her able to defeat Irina.
Redwine does change the queen’s motivations considerably. The queen in the fairy tale wants to be the fairest one of all, and she’s willing to kill a child for it. It’s the kind of flimsy motivation that only works in a fairy tale. Irina’s motivations have nothing to do with beauty, though she is described as beautiful. She wants to be the most powerful one of all, and, as in the fairy tale, she uses her magic mirror to confirm this. She has exerted so much of her power in controlling Ravenspire through the years that it is beginning to fail her. In scenes reminiscent of Snow White and the Huntsman, we see Irina magically drain the life out of people to make herself stronger. Lorelai is the only one powerful enough to defeat her, so Irina wants to kill her once she realizes she is alive. We do get even further motivation for her need to be powerful. It all stems from the jealousy and betrayal she feels toward her younger sister, Lorelai’s mother. Irina was supposed to be the one to marry the king of Ravenspire, but he fell in love with her sister and married her instead. By killing her sister, becoming the king’s second wife, and taking over Ravenspire, Irina feels she is taking what is rightfully hers. The familial connection also harkens back to the original tale. In the first version of “Snow White” the Brothers Grimm published, it was Snow White’s mother, not her stepmother, who tried to kill her. It was changed to her stepmother is subsequent editions to make it for palatable for 19th-century audiences. In other variations of the tale, including the Celtic “Gold Tree and Silver Tree” and the Portuguese “The Vain Queen,” it remains the Snow White character’s mother. Redwine alludes back to this by including a blood relation between Irina and Lorelai instead of having her be an unrelated stepmother.
Redwine combines the characters of the huntsman and the prince in Kol, the newly crowned king of Eldr who comes seeking Irina’s help. We don’t know anything about either of these characters in the fairy tale–the huntsman just works for the queen and the prince just comes across Snow White in her glass casket and decides to bring her home (creepy)–so Redwine has free reign to do what she likes with them. As the younger son, Kol never expects that have the responsibility of the crown until his father, mother, and brother are killed by ogres attacking the kingdom. Also, he’s a dragon. Or rather, he can shift into a dragon; all the people of his country can, and they each have two hearts, a human one and a dragon one. The ogres can only be defeated through magic, so he makes a blood oath with Irina that he will deliver Lorelai’s heart to her if she stops the ogres. So while the queen in the fairy tale sends Snow White out with the huntsman so he can kill her, Irina sends Kol out to hunt down Lorelai; this situation also creates much higher stakes when he decides not to kill her. In the fairy tale, the huntsman takes pity on Snow White because she is innocent and beautiful; there is no pity in Kol since the fate of his kingdom is at stake. However, he can’t kill Lorelai because he owes his life to her. When he first arrives in Ravenspire, she saves him from a mob of townspeople. Like the huntsman of the fairy tale, Kol presents Irina with an animal heart instead, though his is coated in Lorelai’s blood to fool Irina’s magic. Unlike in the fairy tale, this doesn’t work. Irina sees through the trick, proceeds to use her magic to steal Kol’s human heart, and takes control of his dragon heart to force him to hunt Lorelai again. With Lorelai’s help, he manages to fend off the magic compelling him, and the two begin to develop a friendship and a romance, avoiding the insta-love and general creepiness of the original story.
The most famous aspect of “Snow White” is, undoubtedly, the poison apple, and it features prominently on the book’s cover. While poisoned apples do appear, I was surprised by how little they have to do with the plot. Irina has beautiful apples that are rotting inside when cut open, and anyone who eats them falls under her control. She uses them to control the king and the guards in the prologue, and she later feeds them to the people of Ravenspire so they will help her catch Lorelai. When Lorelai is a child, Irina makes a point to tell her the apples aren’t for those with magic. I thought this would come back later and that eating one would cause Lorelai to fall into the death-like sleep of the fairy tale. However, that never comes to anything, and Lorelai never eats an apple. This isn’t the first “Snow White” retelling to forgo the apple, but Lorelai notably is never put to sleep in the traditional Snow White manner. During the final battle with Irina, she does nearly die. This isn’t extended the way the death-like sleep usually is, only lasting a few minutes before the big kiss. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a kiss that wakes Snow White in the fairy tale or any of the variations. As mentioned earlier, the prince decides to bring the supposedly dead girl back to the castle with him (creepy). One of the men carrying the casket trips, which dislodges the apple from Snow White’s throat and causes her to wake up. The kiss method appears to have been borrowed from “Sleeping Beauty” and popularized by Disney, and it’s far more well-known. This is the method Redwine chooses to use. Earlier in the book, they find that kissing stimulate her magic to heal both herself and others. To save her, Kol passionately kisses, and her magic is able to heal herself.
I did have fun reading this book. It’s a fast-paced adventure with several cool concepts. The dragons were particularly intriguing to me. The idea of them having two hearts and being able to shift was fascinating, and I found myself far more interested in their society and culture than I was in the main story. I would probably read a whole book about that. I also loved Irina’s poisoned apples. There is scene in which Irina uses magic to bind a woman to an apple tree and grow an apple out of her mouth. It was dark and gruesome, and I loved it. I wanted to see more of that, and I definitely wanted the apples to play a larger role.
I also found myself wanting more from the characters. They all felt flat to me. Lorelai is a fairly boring character despite all her magic. She doesn’t have any personality besides wanting to defeat Irina. Kol and his group of friends, though from a fascinating culture, feel like they’re trying to hard to be Rhys and the Inner Circle from Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses. It didn’t work for me, and I particularly found Trugg insufferable. He’s constantly flirting and making sexual comments to the women, and I think it’s supposed to be funny since they turn him down every time. But I found it irritating and kind of gross. Many of these moments occur during pivotal or serious scenes and completely throw off the tone of the book. Irina is the character with the most potential, but she isn’t developed enough to truly shine.
My biggest problem was that I don’t think this book brings anything new to the “Snow White” tale. Every reworked aspect of the fairy tale has been done before in other retellings. Snow White falling in love with the huntsman is a fairly popular take. Fugitive Snow White retaking the kingdom has been done several times. The few things that make it unique, such as the dragons, are just window dressing rather than core features of the retelling. It also feels generic as far as YA fantasy goes. The strong female protagonist who can fight and has special magic is a trope of the genre by this point, as are the “witty” side characters. It’s certainly not a bad book; it just feels forgettable in a sea of books that are doing the exact same thing. I do still want to check out a few of Redwine’s other books though, mainly to see her take on “Rumpelstiltskin” and “Cinderella.”
Other Reading Recommendations:
The starred titles are ones I have read myself. The others are ones I want to read and may end up being future Fairy Tale Friday books. To keep the list from getting too long, I’m limiting it to four that I’ve read and four that I haven’t.
Other Retellings of “Snow White”:
- Fairest by Gail Carson Levine*
- Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire*
- Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust*
- “Snow, Glass, Apples” by Neil Gaiman*
- Shattered Snow by Rachel Huffmire
- White as Snow by Tanith Lee
- Snow by Tracy Lynn
- Tear You Apart by Sarah Cross
More Retellings by C. J. Redwine:
About the Fairy Tale:
- Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales from Around the World by Heidi Anne Heiner