In my everlasting quest to discover new and fresh takes on fairy tales and mythology, I have come across Melissa Bashardoust’s debut novel, which was sold as a lesbian retelling of Snow White. Teh strengths of the novel were definitely the original ideas the author brought to the table. Trying to kind of stick to the fairy tale may have actually hurt this book more than helping it. My overall opinion is both underwhelmed and positively surprised.
GIRLS MADE OF SNOW AND GLASS
by Melissa Bashardoust
Published by: Flatiron Books, 2017
eBook: 384 pages
My rating: 6/10
First line: Lynet first saw her in the courtyard. Well, the girl was in the courtyard. Lynet was in a tree.
Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale.
At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone has never beat at all, in fact, but shed always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the kings heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that shell have to become a stepmother.
Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queens image, at her fathers order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do and who to be to win back the only mother shes ever known or else defeat her once and for all.
Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.
This is the story of princess Lynet and her stepmother Mina, told through both their perspectives. We are slowly eased into the world of this particular Snow White retelling, as well as to one of the two protagonists. Lynet lives in the castle with her father the king, and nothing weighs on her as much as her father’s pressure for Lynet to be exactly like her dead mother. As she died during childbirth, Lynet never got to know her, but she is told on a daily basis just how much like her she is – same look, same fragility (oh, how she loathes the word!), same spirit.
Mina on the other hand is Lynet’s stepmother and actually gets along really well with her adopted daughter. Some of her chapters are flashbacks to how she came to be queen and I really, really loved those chapters. They show a young girl with an oppressive, scary magician father. Mina is ambitious but she is also driven by fear. She wants to break out of her life and she wants power – because that is what she feels she needs to be safe. So she plays the part perfectly, gains the newly widowed king’s attention, and works her way into his inner circle via his small daughter. I found it fascinating how well Bashardoust managed to write a sympathetic character who is nonetheless using manipulation to get to her goal. Like, I thought I was supposed to hate her. She’s the villain right? Well… not so much. But she’s no goody-two-shoes either. So well done on flawed and believable characters!
The first half of the book has almost nothing to do with the fairy tale Snow White. A new surgeon beings working at the palace – a young girl named Nadia – and Lynet feels immediately drawn to her and strikes up a friendship. It’s not hard to see that this friendship will eventually bloom into a romance, so I was quite disappointed that we get so little development and chemistry between these two characters. There is far more spark between Lynet and Mina and it was their mother/daughter relationship that kept me glued to the pages more than anything else.
Lynet and Mina also are each special in a magical sort of way. The book title is a dead givaway and it’s revealed pretty early on in the book, so I’ll just tell you: Lynet was created out of snow and magic. Mina, whose heart failed when she was still a child, has a magical heart made of glass. These may sound like tropey fantasy add-ons at first, but it has a huge impact on the plot and the protagonists. While Mina has been told all her life that she cannot love and will never be loved, Lynet feels even more that she was just made to be a stand-in for her dead mother. Their personalities have evolved around their magic and I felt that this was also really well done by the author.
I won’t say much about the plot or the villain – they are both super obvious once the plot actually starts. At about the halfway mark, I felt the book lost a lot of its qualities. Inserting all the necessairy Snow White plot points to turn this into a retelling felt rather forced and ruined what would otherwise have been a beautiful character-driven book about a mother and daughter and a world that would pit them against each other. But you get it all: the poison, the stepmother worrying that she’s being replaced by a younger, more beautiful woman, the prince (in this case: princess), and so on.
The weaker points of the novel were definitely the world building. Except for a few mentions here or there about a curse that leaves the castle in eternal winter, about politics (North vs. South), and about university, there wasn’t much there. I also thought that the magic was built up too slowly at first, only to rush in with a bang at the very end. If you give your characters magical abilities, at least throw in some kind of a learning curve… The romance between Lynet and Nadia was just badly done, and I much preferred the more subtle and growing relationship between Mina and the huntsman!
As for the ending: I loved where the characters ended up and how they resolved the problem of succession and rivalry. Everything did fall into place a bit too neatly however, and because the villain of the novel was so over the top evil, and for no discernible reason, it also fell a little flat. Before the big showdown even began, I already knew how everything would be resolved and I prefer at least some element of surprise when it comes to fairy tale retellings.
All that said, I did enjoy what Bashardoust has done with these characters, and while this turned from a really good into a mediocre book, I will definitely check out her upcoming novel Girl, Serpent, Dove.
MY RATING: 6/10 – Good