Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Information on series: Not part of a series
Audience: Adult, though with appeal for some older teens
Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 4.5
TL;DR: A violent, witty novella-length retelling of Snow White set in the Old West written with a very distinctive and lyrical narrative voice.
Longer review: My love of fairy tales brought me to the fantasy section as a child, and served as my gateway to dragons and wizards and all the rest. There is something magical about a well-written retelling that allows you to experience a familiar favorite, as if for the first time.
Catherynne M. Valente has drawn on myth and folklore in many of her award-winning novels and shorter fiction for both adults and younger readers (you might recognize her as the author of the middle-grade The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making). Valente has described her style as “mythpunk” (à la cyberpunk). Her Six-Gun Snow White is, no surprise, a retelling of Snow White set in the American Old West.
What made Valente’s retelling stand out for me was the narrative voice. It’s a distinctive, witty style with grammar and vocabulary that brought the Old West setting and characters to life. This could very easily have become a gimmick, but instead the style helped to underscore what Valente had to say about gender, race, and magic. In fact, this proved to be the sort of book where I found myself going back to reread passages and mark favorite quotes. I’ll limit myself to sharing two here:
“In my experience, folk find it nigh on impossible to call a thing what it is.” (page 10)
“You can tell a true story about your parents if you’re a damn sight good at sorting lies like laundry, but no one can tell a true story about themselves.” (page 69)
It’s a violent, bittersweet story that will appeal most to readers who look for language and style over plot and characters. A taste for dark humor would not go amiss either.
Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, & Jordie Bellaire: This graphic novel is another fairy tale set in the Old West, though it is an original tale that rather than a one-for-one retelling. The story is complex, and the artwork is often stunning.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: Like Valente, Gaiman often draws on folklore and mythology for inspiration in his stories. The mythology in The Ocean at the End of the Lane is familiar in the way that nightmares are familiar. This is also a novella, and the writing is lyrical, though it’s a very different poetry.
Deerskin by Robin McKinley: McKinley wrote some of the first fairy tale retellings I ever read, so it’s possible I’m including this more from nostalgia than for its appeal factors. That said, Deerskin is a dark story of abuse, escape, and recovery lyrically told.