Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire. Review by Tom McMeekin

Book Cover

In Print
Mirror Mirror is a retelling of the fairy tale of Snow White, which—like other books by author Gregory Maguire—draws parallels between history and legend. However, it is not entirely successful in its endeavors.

Snow White is known in this tale as Bianca. Her father, Don Vicente de Nevada, is a nobleman who owns land in Italy, and he is sent on a quest by the powerful Borgia family to find the Tree of Knowledge. Lucrezia Borgia, infamous since it is rumored a Pope was both her father and her lover, is the evil queen who becomes jealous of Bianca's beauty. The dwarves begin their lives in the story not so much human as they are vaguely sentient rocks, and gradually develop into more.

The novel is divided into four sections based on the years, in the early 1500s, in which the action takes place. Poetry is interspersed throughout the story, but it is choppy and unlyrical. It feels unfinished and doesn't add much to the book. The artwork which accompanies the book, as with most of Maguire's, is done by Douglas Smith in the style of woodcuts. Even this design fails in a way, for there isn't enough art and the same pieces are reused too often. That which is there is beautiful but doesn't reflect the story as well as with the other books.

Book Cover

On Audio
Although there are things to like about Mirror Mirror, most of them don't happen until more than halfway through. The first half of this book felt far too long and drawn out. At some point later the story finally picked up. Unfortunately, the ending reverts to feeling confusing and unrewarding.

The Biblical and religious metaphors are a good concept. Lucrezia's ties to the Pope, the use of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and ideas of good and evil and power are well examined. However, there are too many loose threads, too many other themes that remain unfinished. Don Vicente's past is hinted at but never revealed; his quest takes years in the story but when finally begun it is achieved too soon; other characters are underused or overused in relation to their potential. There are only a couple twists in the story that keep it from being predictable, as retellings may be apt to become, but these twists mostly serve to frustrate.

Several of Maguire's other books—Wicked, its sequel Son of a Witch, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister—are superior. Even though this book's premise seems perhaps more plausible as the basis of a good novel, it doesn't deliver. Mirror Mirror is about twice as long as the story told deserves to be; perhaps it would have been better to reduce the redundancy and write a book simply called Mirror.

Tom McMeekin is a writer and artist from Pennsylvania and a recent graduate of Clarion University. His Web site is TomMcMeekin.com. For more from Tom, check out his ARWZ Blog

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