Published by Flatiron Books on September 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
I have to confess that Snow White has always been one of my least favorite fairy tales because I could never get into the idea of one woman deciding she needed to poison another woman just because she might have taken her place as “the fairest of them all.” That said, as soon as I heard that Melissa Bashardoust’s Girls Made of Snow and Glass was being advertised as a feminist retelling of the Snow White fairytale, it immediately became a must-read book for me. I just couldn’t wait to find out what a feminist retelling would entail.
Girls Made of Snow and Glass was everything I hoped it would be and more. It’s a beautifully written, character-driven exploration of the relationship between two women who are doomed to be rivals. Lynet is the Snow White character in the story. She is the 15 year old daughter of the King of Whitespring. Lynet is a free spirit who loves to run, climb, and have endless adventures. She has no interest whatsoever in politics or in ever becoming Queen. Much to her frustration, her father constantly reminds her how much she looks like her beautiful dead mother and how one day she will take her mother’s place and become Queen of Whitespring. Lynet doesn’t want to hear it because she just wants to grow up to be her own person, not a mirror image of a mother she never even met. If she had to choose to be like anyone else, she would, in fact, choose to grow up to be like her strong and fierce stepmother, Mina.
Mina is, of course, the stepmother/Evil Queen figure in the story, and she also very unexpectedly turned out to be my favorite character. Bashardoust writes such a rich and intricate backstory for Mina that even though she eventually ends up on a similar path to the stepmother in the original tale, it’s easy to see how she ends up in such a predicament. We meet Mina while she is Queen of Whitespring, but the story quickly takes us back to when Mina was about Lynet’s age and being raised by her father, a well-known, often feared, magician in the kingdom. Mina’s father is cold, controlling, and sometimes hurtful. In a particularly spiteful moment, he tells Mina that she nearly died of heart failure at age 4, and that to save her, he used magic to replace her dying heart with a glass one. He tells Mina that because she has no actual heart, she cannot love and cannot be loved. He goes on to tell Mina that all she can hope for is to make people love her because of her beauty.
When Mina’s father uses his magic to help the King one day, the King decides to repay him by offering him a place to live on the royal grounds. Once living there, Mina comes up with the idea that if she can make the King fall in love with her, she can someday become Queen and thus earn the love of all of those in the kingdom. Mina’s plan starts to fall into place and she and her stepdaughter Lynet actually become quite close, that is, until Lynet becomes old enough to become a threat to the throne. Even though Lynet swears she has no interest in becoming queen, the threat she presents to Mina, who is so desperate to be loved, still starts to drive a wedge between them.
Are Lynet and Mina truly doomed to be rivals or can they figure out a way for each of them to get what they most want?
My favorite part of Girls Made of Snow and Glass is the complexity of the relationship between Mina and Lynet. Their relationship is ultimately the driving force behind this story and it’s no simple battle about who’s the fairest of them all. These two women, care about one another, and as Lynet grows up, have truly become like family. When Mina comes to the realization that Lynet may be the greatest obstacle to her finding that love she is so desperate for, it absolutely guts her. She doesn’t want to have to hurt Lynet in any way to get what she wants. Their relationship is just beautiful and heartbreaking.
Equally glorious to the complex relationship between the two main characters is the magic! Okay, so there’s no dwarves, no poison apple, and no kiss from a handsome prince to break a curse. A bit of a bummer maybe, but the magic Bashardoust has given to her characters more than makes up for it. It’s just so creative and well, for lack of a better word, magical, haha!
As I’ve already mentioned, Mina’s father used magic to save Mina by giving her a glass heart. As you probably also gleaned from the book’s title and synopsis, if Mina is the girl made of glass, then there is another girl who is made of snow. Lynet is of course that girl. There’s a very good reason why the King keeps telling Lynet she looks just like her mother. The King had called Mina’s father to him, desperate to save his Queen, who was dying. Mina’s father was unable to save her, but at the King’s request, used his magic to create an infant girl in the Queen’s likeness. Using snow, Mina’s father gave the King what he wanted, Lynet.
Mina’s father somehow transferred a portion of his magic to each girl when he used it on them, thus infusing both Lynet and Mina with powers of their own. That’s all I’m going to say about the magic for now, but trust me, it’s important and it’s awesome and these two young women are just badass, especially when they start using these powers.
Another element of the story that was really a highlight for me was an unexpected f/f relationship between Lynet and a young female surgeon named Nadia. The romance comes about and develops in such a natural, low-key way and doesn’t at all distract from the rest of the plot, and I just thought it was beautifully written.
I only had a couple of issues with this story, the main one being that the men in it are just so UGHHH. The King was basically a good man and he meant well, but at a certain point, it really started to bother me how much he kept obsessing on how much Lynet reminded him of her dead mother and how she was destined to take her mother’s place someday. I know he didn’t mean it in an incestuous way, but it was still a little creepy.
Don’t even get me started on Mina’s father. If you’re one who likes to have characters to hate, he’s your guy. Aside from the fact that he did save Mina’s life when she was a little girl, there’s nothing else redeeming about him. He’s just a selfish, manipulative jerk. He also had a creepy obsession with Lynet since he “made” her. I have to admit, I spent much of the book wishing something horrible would happen to him.
Aside from the horrid men in the story, I did think the pacing was a little slow early on in the story and that it took me a little while to get used to Mina’s narrative being told from a present-day perspective as well as one from when she was 16. Once I got used to the way Mina’s story was being presented, it was no longer an issue for me.
Girls of Snow and Glass is a book I’d recommend without hesitation to anyone who enjoys stories that are character driven. I’d also recommend it to those who love fairytale retelling and even to those who say they’re burnt out on retellings. Even though this story borrows the overall idea of a young girl being in the way of her stepmother, Bashardoust has crafted such a creative story that if I hadn’t known this was a Snow White retelling going in, I don’t know that I would have guessed it. It’s a uniquely fresh take on a timeless tale.
RATING: 4 STARS
Thanks so much to Netgalley, Melissa Bashardoust, and Flatiron Books for allowing me to preview Girls Made of Snow and Glass. This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.
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 she’d 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 king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll 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 queen’s image, at her father’s 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 she’s 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.