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Mirror Mirror
Gregory Maguire
Narrated by John McConough, with Kate Forbes, Barbara Rosenblat and Richard Ferrone, unabridged
HarperAudio, 9 hours

Mirror Mirror
Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature at Tufts University (1990). He was a professor and associate director of the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College, 1979 through 1986. Since 1986 he has been codirector and founding board member of Children's Literature New England, Incorporated, a non-profit that focuses attention on the significance of literature in the lives of children. He has lived abroad in Dublin and London, and now makes his home in Massachusetts.

Gregory Maguire Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Mirror Mirror

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nicki Gerlach

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Mirror Mirror is a retelling twice over: first, and most obviously, it's a retelling of Snow White in a historical perspective. However, it's also a re-imagining of part of the life story of Lucrezia Borgia, a figure known to most people as a the leading lady of corrupt and murderous Machiavellian politics. What Gregory Maguire does so well in Mirror Mirror is to synthesize the two, mixing historical fiction with magical realism to create a historical context and story that seem entirely plausible as the source from which the fairy tale sprung.

Bianca de Nevada (literally, "white of snow") is the only daughter of Don Vincente de Nevada, a Spanish-descended nobleman who lives in the Tuscan hills on his estate of Montefiore. Her mother died in childbirth, and she has grown up isolated on her father's estate, with only her father, the priest, a cook, and the other servants for company. When Bianca is young, her father finds a large mirror sunk in the lake on their property. Shortly thereafter, their estate is descended upon by the Borgias, who, under the guise of hospitality, exert their power and influence to change the lives of the de Nevadas. Cesare Borgia sends Don Vincente on an errand to fetch him a relic which is said to be a branch from the original Tree of Knowledge. Unable to refuse, Don Vincente leaves his home and daughter, with the promise that Lucrezia will care for them.

As Don Vincente's errand turns into years of absence, it's unsurprising that Lucrezia sets herself up as the de facto mistress of Montefiore. While this arrangement is certainly unpleasant for Bianca, it doesn't become truly dangerous until Cesare visits his sister. Jealous of the attention her brother (and erstwhile lover) is paying to young Bianca, Lucrezia orders the girl to be taken into the woods and killed. Of course, the young hunter tasked with the murder cannot carry it out, and Bianca finds herself abandoned in the woods -- and eventually under the care of seven dwarves. The dwarves are not small humans, but rather sons of the earth and stones, called from their slow reverie into sentience by Bianca's presence and attention. As she lives and grows with them, she discovers that they too have lost something: their eighth brother, who had their magic mirror.

The blend of fantasy and historical fiction in this book can work both for and against it, and the outcome will likely depend on how the reader approaches it. I went into it expecting a standard fairy-tale retelling ("some random girl living in the European woods in the middle ages"), and so I was pleased to find the traditional fairy-tale elements anchored in actual history. On the other hand, it was so well anchored in actual history that it reads as straight-up historical fiction for half of the story (until Bianca encounters the dwarves), which meant it was somewhat disconcerting when all of a sudden there's a bit about boulders turning into men or enchanted comas or magic mirrors.

The writing is similar to Maguire's other books -- well-done, with some lovely bits full of poetic imagery, particularly in the interludes between chapters. There are parts that get carried away with their own writing, but it's always in service of the story, and Maguire doesn't wind up letting his own cleverness get in the way of his story nearly as much as he did in Wicked. Still, there was nothing in either the writing or the story that really ever grabbed me. The characters were interesting but never inspired any emotional attachment or warmth; likewise, it was interesting to see how the various fairy-tale elements emerged in his plot, but never truly suspenseful.

John McDonough did the narration for the bulk of the book, which is told in the third person, with Kate Forbes, Barbara Rosenblat, and Richard Ferrone narrating the first-person interludes from Lucrezia's, Bianca's, and the dwarves' perspectives. All of the narrators did a fine job, although the two men have similar timbres to their voices, leading to a small amount of confusion as to which perspective we were listening.

Overall, I think this book would be best for fans of Gregory Maguire or re-imagined fairy tales in general, or for historical fiction readers who are willing to try a historical fiction with fantastical elements without fully committing to a fantasy novel. As for me, intellectually I can admire what Maguire's done in Mirror Mirror, but it just lacked the heart needed for me to really get fully involved.

Copyright © 2008 Nicki Gerlach

Nicki Gerlach is a mad scientist by day and an avid reader the rest of the time.  More of her book reviews can be found at her blog, fyreflybooks.wordpress.com/.


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