“What if the Evil Queen poisoned the prince?”
If I’m honest I initially thought the tagline to this Snow White twisted tale novel was a massive plot spoiler but, when you are 300 pages into a book and no-one has eaten a poisoned apple, it may be the ideal opportunity to admit you were wrong. This book is not that simple!
Mirror, Mirror explores the traditional Grimm fairy tale of Snow White through the eyes of the two main characters: the Evil Queen and Snow White herself. The reader is completely under the control of these two women: finding themselves with no choice but to witness the familiar story from their perspective.
Jen Calonita’s novel is also heavily built on story telling through flashbacks. In my opinion, this is a genius idea as it provides an undeniable depth to her characters. Let’s be honest, everyone knows the story of Snow White but not everyone knows the story before Snow White and it is here where the twisted tale evolves.
Through these flashbacks we meet Katherine and Ingrid: two sisters whom have lost their mother and are being raised by their neglectful, sometimes violent, father. As a result of their upbringing, Ingrid, the elder sister, has adopted a motherly role towards her younger sister Katherine and strives to protect the innocent girl at all times. They leave home, finding work on a farm where Katherine finds her passion within the apple orchard, cultivating a new variety of apple which will later attract the attention of the King.
Ingrid however, always wants more than what she has. Older and more aware of the hardship life can bring, Ingrid is not as sweet and innocent as her sister: people do not dote on Ingrid as they do Katherine and eventually Ingrid finds that she cannot settle for a simple life- instead opting for a job in a small shop known for its association with dark magic and the home of a certain mirror.
You may have guessed by now that Ingrid is, in fact, the Evil Queen and her sister Katherine is Snow White’s mother! I know what you are thinking, I have just described how protective Ingrid was of the future Queen: surely she wouldn’t “off” her own sister and try to collect her niece’s heart in a box?
This is where the complexity of Ingrid’s character really shines through and where, (if hats suited me) I will take my hat off to Jen Calonita. Mirror Mirror takes you on a journey with Ingrid. You experience her love for her sister first-hand as well as her frustration with her sheltered life but later you also witness her lust for power and how easily Ingrid’s choices lead her down the wrong path.
I also believe that Ingrid is truly scarred by her past. She sneers upon her sister’s kindness and villainises Katherine for letting a man, and later her baby, come between them. Ingrid views herself as wiser and more intelligent than her little sister: believing that she would certainly rule the Kingdom more efficiently and not stopping until this becomes a reality.
Despite being a formidable woman, Ingrid is not devoid of vulnerabilities and, as the story progresses, the readers will witness Ingrid’s ghosts and note how one in particular never leaves her until the very end.
Of course, Ingrid’s enabler is the magic mirror. Calonita paints a picture of a mirror identical to the one we remember from the Disney 1938 classic animated film with a haunting mask dominating and manipulating The Evil Queen with every chance it gets.
The mirror creates an obsession and dependence within Ingrid that is chillingly portrayed. It is undoubtedly the real villain of the story: demanding blood from the start and weakening Ingrid until she cleaves to its will. However, we all know who is standing between the mirror and its plans for domination and undisputed power: the princess Snow White.
In the past, I have made no secret of the fact that Snow is my least favourite Disney princess. Her voice in the film grated on me and I just genuinely found her irritating. Thankfully Calonita’s Snow White is more akin to the ‘Once Upon A Time’ interpretation and so much easier to form a relationship with as a reader.
While fulfilling our expectations of being kind, innocent and prone to falling in love with conveniently handsome Princes: Mirror Mirror’s Snow White is bolder than we are used to and, as her story progresses, becomes more confident in herself as the heir to the kingdom. Her priorities are more political in nature, with a strong focus on rebuilding her kingdom and her bravery shines through almost from the very beginning. Snow does encounter challenges and dark thoughts as any person does but earns her Disney princess badge by helping true love to save the day!
Similarly, the seven dwarves are not as one-dimensional as the classic movie. They assist the Princess of course and shelter her in the forest but they also seem more street-wise (or should that be forest-wise?), squirreling away diamonds for bartering and mustering armies for Snow’s cause. There isn’t too much focus on the seven men in Mirror Mirror but I don’t think that the book is necessarily missing this. I think the characters are so well-known that too much character development would stray away from the main plot.
Mirror, Mirror is a modern adaptation of the familiar fairytale: centring itself around two very strong women in their own right but polar opposites in terms of their characters and choices in life.
The novel makes several nods to the iconic images formed in 1938 by Walt Disney such as the apple, the glass coffin and, of course, the seven dwarves. However, the recurring theme of choosing your own story and the complex backgrounds to her characters cause Jen Calonita’s novel to stand out on its own.
It may not have been the traditional “happy ever after” but this adaptation of Snow White was, in my opinion, the “fairest of them all”.