Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs relocate to early-17th-century Tuscany, in this wildly inventive latest from the author of such adult fantasies as Wicked (1995) and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999).
Bianca de Nevada is a motherless five-year-old growing up on her father Vicente’s Montefiore farm, under the watchful eyes of crusty Fra Ludovico and earthy cook Primavera. When a visit from politically ambitious nobleman Cesare Borgia sends Vicente off to perform an “impossible” task (retrieving an apple-laden branch from the biblical Tree of Knowledge), Bianca is left to the tender mercies of Cesare’s equally ruthless sister (and, rumor has it, lover) Lucrezia. Maguire rings several ingenious changes on the familiar tale, making the magical mirror now possessed by Bianca’s de facto stepmother Lucrezia the creation of the seven dwarves with whom Bianca will find refuge, after Primavera’s malcontent grandson Ranucchio disobeys Lucrezia’s order to lure Bianca into the forest to her death. Vicente survives his ordeal and returns home to find his daughter missing and presumed dead. Seventeen years following these initial events, Cesare has perished in battle, Lucrezia has fallen victim to her own malevolence and paranoia, and Ranuccio completes his redemption with the chaste act that brings the story to its well-known conclusion. A succession of (mostly) brief chapters keeps things moving, and Maguire refreshes his source material capably, depicting the dwarves as eerie semi-human hybrids (“granite figures imitating creatures”), concocting a honey of a plot twist featuring a vagabond “eighth dwarf,” and reimagining the notorious Borgia siblings as monsters gifted with intellect, wit, and paradoxical depth. Almost everything works, in a pastiche that’s a model of the form.
Every bit as good as Wicked: wicked good, in fact.