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Dark, Sensual...and Depressing
on October 17, 2001
Tanith Lee proved herself a master of gorgeous prose many years ago; having enjoyed the short re-tellings presented in her collection Red as Blood: Tales From the Sisters Grimmer, I was thrilled to see a full-length novel based on Snow White.
Indeed, there are elements from the classic folk tale in White As Snow: the mirror (although rather un-magical in this novel), the dwarves, the flight to safety from the Queen...however, as a top reviewer mentioned, the novel is overflowing with metaphor and symbolism, some fairly accessible to the average reader and some obscure. In my opinion, Lee tries to dip her pen into too many inkpots in this novel - Greek mythology, Catholic doctrine, and God-Goddess rituals. Despite the help of a competent forward by Terri Windling, I think the general reader will be left confused by the numerous metapors, and ultimately indifferent.
If you're the type who loves digging into every reference in T.S. Eliot's Wasteland, you won't mind the overload of images from different cultures, times and lands. What I think no reader will enjoy, however, are the characters in this work. I don't think there is a likable one in the lot. Our two females, mother and daughter, are both self-deprecating and exceptionally arrogant at the same time, so depressed and disinterested (apparently) with humanity in general that you just wish they would go away. They mope more than anything else. It is hard to muster sympathy for them or become invested in their fictional lives. I found I did not much care what happened to them at story's end.
It's a tough read, not for the faint of heart. Pondering the numerous metaphors and symbols (especialy the symbolism of the mirror, I'd add) may be very rewarding for some and provide good discussion amongst readers. But if you're looking for a more old-fashioned tale - and by this I mean a story with strong protagonists, antagonists, and compelling plot line - you'd best look elsewhere.