A Mirror Mended
(Fractured Fables #2)
By Alix E. Harrow
Tordotcom Publishing — June 2022
ISBN: 9781250766649 — Hardcover — 144 pp.
With A Mirror Mended, Harrow hits all the right notes of success from A Spindle Splintered, and then surpasses them with additional fresh melodies of complexity. The second novella the Fractured Fables series picks up five years after the end of the first. Zinnia has spent that time traveling the Sleeping Beauty metaverse, saving Princesses in distress wherever possible. With the years of her predicted lifespan reset by the magical clearing of her misfolded cellular proteins, Zinnia has been able to go on living fearlessly, not having to worry about her own inevitable cost.
But, her activities saving Sleeping Beauties across the narrative realms has come with some costs. Zinnia’s become estranged from her former best friend Charm, who continues to live a happy life with Prim. Zinnia has become exhausted of the constant movement, the reiterations of the same story, slightly changed. She can begin to feel the effects of time passing on her health. And the universes have begun to show signs of becoming increasingly fractured and intertwined in inexplicable ways, fairy tales bleeding in to ‘normal’ reality, with elements even outside Sleeping Beauty.
Celebrating the rescue of her latest princess, Zinnia gazes into a mirror to see an unfamiliar face staring back, and she suddenly is drawn into another universe. It’s one she quickly realizes comes from beyond the Sleeping Beauty cluster. Somehow, she has ended up in a world of Snow White. And the strange face that she saw in the mirror that pulled her there is none other than the Evil Queen.
What makes A Mirror Mended so successful is that Harrow doesn’t simply rehash the types of adventure and themes found in A Spindle Splintered. Readers quickly figure out that Zinnia is not here to rescue Snow White at all, but to help the Evil Queen. The immediate question for Zinnia is, should should save an Evil Queen? Of course, Harrow deftly shows that this narrative is based on a ton of missing information on who this villain really is. Why is she villainous? Why does she not even get a name?
So begins a novella that is an adventure like the previous one, but also a tale of connected self discovery. Zinnia most come to terms with what she has been doing, and the risks they might entail. This includes some critique of her assumptions/actions in the first novella, as well as the collapse of her core friendship with Charm.
The imperfections that remain even when trying to ‘cleanse’ a problematic fairy tale of all its offenses become more clear, serving as a sort of meta analysis of Harrow’s series itself, or the idea of retelling fairy tales in general. Harrow ups the meta joy in A Mirror Mended, having absolute fun with the zaniness of the novella’s premise and its play with narratives and character agency within a narrative that Harrow controls. This really rounds out Zinnia’s journey to a next step in this book two.
Self discovery is also central theme for the Evil Queen, who Zinnia chooses to name Eva. Eva must discover how far she is able to go to ensure self-survival, particular when she suddenly realizes there are other people who may actually care about her. Eva is a fabulously multidimensional character that drives the novel forward and ends up saving the woman who has played the savior heroine these last five years, Zinnia. And only through letting herself be saved does Zinnia save Eva.
This is all so meta! A recursiveness and eternal knot formed by the two women. The struggles within each of them become entangled their relationship. That entanglement is itself they key for the progression of each to self resolution. It’s an absolute inversion of the saving trope that was the focus of the first novella, one that was predicated on someone saving another so that the other can have personal agency. Here, full agency is only achieved through a partnership of sorts, a giving up of agency. It’s meta, an apparent absurd contradiction. Yet, it is also the basis of the concept of marriage.
A Mirror Mended succeeds on so many levels, even down to that symbolic level that the title evokes. It’s a love story of Zinnia and Eva, the foundation of a true partnership without the loss of choice or control for either party. The individual shards (lives) of a fractured mirror become united into something whole that reflects back an image of the other – just like that moment that initially pulled Zinnia into Eva’s seemingly hopeless story – staring into a face that is not your own, but that together make a tale for the ages.
I’ve probably drifted way too far here into the realms of analysis over that of review, forgive me. But this is what I really, really loved about A Mirror Mended. It’s simply brilliant on multiple levels, meta and all.
Even without all that, A Mirror Mended is simply an entertaining adventure filled with great language, rich characters, humor, and deep human emotion. Harrow’s choice to make this more about the villain than simply another princess in distress story is essential to its success. But atop that I also adored her inversion of the Snow White tale by having Zinnia and Eva end up in a universe where Snow White has become the one-dimensional villain of the story, like some Disney aesthetic Lady Bathory.
Another final detail of A Mirror Mended that I really enjoyed were the original silhouette illustrations by Michael Rogers. I forgot to mention that style of illustration that appeared included in A Spindle Splintered. That first novella included doctored illustrations whose originals were done by Arthur Rackham, a fairy tale illustrator often mentioned in that text by Folklore nerd Zinnia. I had no prior familiarity with Rackham, or fairy tales in general. I don’t think I could even explain what the plot to Sleeping Beauty is prior to reading Harrow’s first novella. Though I enjoyed the whimsical alterations to Rackham’s silhouettes, they didn’t quite fit with the text of the novella where they were placed. In A Mirror Mended I liked that a similar vibe could be attained without having to use pre-existing ones inverted and fractured.
Somewhere I noticed mention that this would be end to the Fractured Fables series. I’m not sure if that’s true, or I misunderstood, but I would hope that if Harrow can find new directions to take the idea, or new themes to delve into, that she would. A further fracturing and entanglement of fairy tale metaverses could prove interesting if used symbolically for new relevance. But if not, I will continue to reread and enjoy these two little gems.