Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Snow White of course. Or is it…..Lucrezia Borgia???! Gregory Maguire mixes the classic fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with Renaissance Italy ruled by the Borgia’s. Vincente de Nevada is a widower raising his young daughter Bianca on his own at Montefiore after the untimely death of her mother. One day they receive a surprise visit from Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia who take a liking to Vincente’s home. Cesare, now in the grips of illness from his immoral life sends Vincente on an errand to retrieve a branch from the Tree of Knowledge which is located in a Middle Eastern monastery. He believes this will change his fortunes. Many years pass while Vincente is off on his quest and his daughter Bianca grows into a pretty young girl. Unfortunately this is noticed by Cesare Borgia which in turn makes his sister Lucrezia insanely jealous. She orders a huntsman to take Bianca into the woods, kill her, and bring her the girl’s heart in a casket. Instead the huntsman lets her go and she is found by the dwarves. The dwarves of this tale however bear no resemblance to the Disney version. These dwarves are actually boulders that come to life and become more human due to the presence of Bianca. Lucrezia soon discovers that Bianca is not dead and sets out to do the job herself, trying a variety of unsuccessful methods. Her final try-poisoning an apple from the Tree of Knowledge and convincing Bianca to eat it seems to work, but as in the fairy tale, a “Prince” rescues her and she survives.
The Good: I thought the idea of taking the Snow White tale and melding it with the Borgia’s to be rather clever. Also the take on the dwarves as some sort of rock beings with their own kind of reality and time was creative. As always, Lucrezia made a lovely villain and the supporting cast of Cesare, Primavera, Fra Ludovico and the idiot goose boy made for some entertaining scenes.
The Bad: The story did not flow very well at all. This was a surprise to me because I loved Wicked, Son of a Witch, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and A Lion among Men. In those books even with all of Maguire’s strange and interesting plots and characters, I always had a firm grasp of what was going on. Not so with Mirror Mirror. I got confused about what was happening. The pace of the book was slow throughout. I kept hoping it would pick up at some point but it never did. The characters were interesting enough but none of them were very well developed. I didn’t really get a feel for any of them which is too bad because the story probably would have been much more interesting had some of the characters been featured more. I think out of all of them the best was Lucrezia, however Bianca (who is supposed to be the heroine) really had no substance.
Overall: Like all of Maguire’s books this was a unique take on a classic fairy tale. Unfortunately, unique isn’t always a good thing. If you are reading Gregory Maguire for the first time, I would recommend trying one of his aforementioned books and not starting with this one. I would also avoid the novel Lost as that one was not on the same level as the Oz books either. This one was good enough. It just wasn’t great and great is what I have come to expect from this author.