Valente (The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, 2015, etc.) reimagines “Snow White” as a story set in an extravagantly imagined Wild West and propelled by a sharpshooting, half-Crow heroine.
Valente’s Snow White is the daughter of Mr. H, a greedy man who made his fortune on Nevada silver mines and married a woman of the Crow people named Gun That Sings as a way to possess her beauty completely. When Gun That Sings dies in childbirth, her daughter is left to a lonely childhood cloistered in luxury and often neglected by a father embarrassed by the reality of her half-Crow, half-white heritage. Mr. H remarries, and his new wife, a cruel woman with mysterious and unpleasant powers, gives her stepdaughter the name “Snow White” as an insult against her darker skin. Snow White endures outrageous and inventive abuse of mind and body until she grows up and finds herself a young woman with the grit and fierceness necessary to run away and discover her own life. Valente tells Snow White’s story with an enjoyably distinctive voice, one that nods to the vernacular of both the fictional Old West and fairy tales, and manages to be equally vivid when coming straight through Snow White as she narrates her childhood and through the voice of a narrator describing her adventures when the novella pivots partway through. Her Wild West is crammed with fascinating details (a gemstone mine with an underground saloon; a town run by extraordinary women outlaws) and disturbing magic (a mirror whose reflections have their own enchanted life; a boy who's part deer), all offered with a sharp eye for how the strange reflects the most ordinary, most interesting parts of being human.
Though the ending rushes in unexpectedly, this is an engaging and delightfully written tale.