Snow by Tracy Lynn
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: The Duchess Jessica's childhood began with a tragedy: her mother's death. Her father, heartbroken at the loss of his beloved wife, could not bear to raise the child. Largely ignored, Jessica spent the first eleven years of her life running free on the family estate, cared for only by the servants.
Then her father decides to remarry, bringing an end to Jessica's independence. At first her new stepmother just seems overly strict. But as Jessica grows into a beautiful young woman, it becomes clear that her stepmother is also wildly -- and murderously -- jealous of her.
Jessica escapes to London. Going by the name Snow to hide from her family, she falls in love with an odd band of outcasts who accept her into their makeshift family. But when her stepmother appears in the city, repentant and seeking her forgiveness, Jessica will have to decide whom to trust...with her life.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling with historical recontextualization
So, I had a moment of panic earlier today that I would, on day one, be forced to fail at my resolution. I thought I had left my copy of the novel at work, which would have been bad, as I hadn’t yet finished it.
But! Turns out I’d just removed it from my bag when I got home and forgotten completely that I’d done it because I’d lose my head if it wasn’t attached.
Anyway, crisis averted, book finished, and here I am, ready to review!
Snow is the only contribution that Tracy Lynn made to the Once Upon a Time series, but after rereading this book, I wish she’d offered more. I really like what she’s done with this story, and the context she’s put it in.
Our king and queen are, here, a duke and duchess, of Kenigh in Wales during the reign of Queen Victoria. They married for love, and are still very much in it, but they desperately want a child. Here, I like how Lynn plays with the wishing on a drop of blood bit – the duchess finds herself daydreaming about children, with her dark hair and their father’s fine looks, but then catches herself and changes the wish – for kindness, for goodness, for generosity.
And it’s nature taking its course rather than any sort of wish magic that eventually wins a baby. Unfortunately, as often happened, the mother died in childbirth, and as the child was a girl, the duke projected his resentment onto her. She had taken his love, and hadn’t even had the decency to be an heir to balance out the loss.
And so, young Jessica grows up in the kitchens, with the servants, and without much in the way of supervision. Every once in a while, her father will be reminded that he has a daughter, and that’s when things become unbearable for Jessica, because that’s when she has to wear gowns and stay in her room away from her friends. But eventually, the duke forgets about her again, and her life resumes.
But the duke still needs an heir, and so eventually, he is forced to marry again – a widow who is not a witch, but a scientist, a practice that was likely as frowned upon in Victorian Wales as dark magic was in the world of the fairy tale.
Arriving to the estate at the same time as Lady Anne is a young Scottish bard, hired by the duke as a present for his new wife. Lady Anne will serve as Alan’s patron as he continues practicing his music. He’s super excited, until he understands exactly what his job is going to entail. See, the first time he goes to play for the Lady Anne privately, he doesn’t play any music at all. Instead, she forces him to wear a charm that turns out to be enchanted with science (it makes sense in the novel, trust me) to keep his silence and her secrets. She makes him hold her giant heavy mirror while she admires herself and asks him who’s the fairest. He’s enchanted to speak the truth. The minstrel is the mirror, and I love it.
Meanwhile, Jessica has a mother for the first time in her memory, and what I like about this relationship is that it’s not automatically an evil stepmother situation. It’s a lot more subtle than the original. Anne takes an interest in Jessica. She does what she can to school and teach the girl about a woman’s place in the world, and it isn’t until Jessica officially becomes a woman for the first time that Anne starts to see her as a rival.
Lynn does a great job portraying the coming of age part of the story, as Jessica and her friends from the kitchens transition from children into teenagers, and the scene where Jessica is supposed to be presented for the first time in a party just for her is harsh and heart-breaking and very well done in terms of this transition. She slips away to visit new puppies in the kennel, and on her way back, she’s mistaken for a servant girl by one of the young noblemen there. He attempts to have his way with her, and when she runs to Anne and her father, she’s told that it’s her fault, that if she hadn’t let him think her a servant, it wouldn’t have happened.
Turns out this is the perfect excuse for Anne to exact some revenge on Jessica for her budding beauty – she says that if Jessica insists on acting like a servant instead of a duchess, then that is how she’ll be treated, and Jessica spends the next two years of her life in isolation, forbidden to talk to anyone, cooking and cleaning and serving the household.
Now, apparently, this changes her appearance entirely, something I’m not quite sure about. She pales and her hair turns black, and that’s why people start calling her Snow. This seems . . . questionable to me. I mean, I’m evidence that hair gets darker when you’re not outside a lot, but going from “copper-brown” to black? I don’t think that’s a thing. But it’s minor, and hey. I could be wrong.
Anyway, she manages to secretly maintain a friendship with Alan through her servitude, and it’s a good thing she does because as it turns out, Anne is getting more and more desperate for a child. Alan’s seen some pretty horrifying things he can’t talk about, but when Anne starts to talk about cutting out and eating Jessica/Snow’s heart, he care enough about it to weaken the enchantment enough to warn her to get away.
And away she goes, not into the woods, but into London, losing herself in the city as Snow White of the tale did in the forest. It’s a parallel I adore because on the surface, it seems so opposite, but in essence, it really isn’t.
Not knowing how cities work, Snow is robbed almost immediately, forcing her to take shelter in a tucked-away hollow someone made into a home and then abandoned.
Except, not entirely. No, the hidey-hole still belongs to someone, and she is not at all happy about finding Snow there. Nor is Snow terribly at ease when she learns that she has been discovered by a girl who is half-human and half-cat and a boy who is half-human and half-sparrow. She’s even less enthused when she learns they’ll have to take her to their boss.
The boss turns out to be a half-human, half-rat named Chauncey. Two other hybrid creatures round out our band of dwarfs – Raven and the Mouser, and I’ll let you put two and two together there. They call themselves The Lonely Ones, and they roam the streets of London at night, making a living as pickpockets and cut-purses, “miners” as they call themselves, of the rich of Londontown.
And Snow quickly becomes one of them. She doesn’t join in the thieving, but she cooks and cleans and is far more at home with that band of outcasts that she ever was as a duchess.
But back at the estate, Anne has learned that Snow is still alive, and this fact is dangerous to Anne. If Snow is alive, Snow can talk about what Anne tried to do to her. If Snow is alive, it could ruin her. Now, Anne has learned, with her scientific magic, how to use one mirror to see through any, and it so happens that Snow has a small mirror. Anne sees her in the hideout, with Cat. And so, Anne concocts a plan and heads for London, and Alan, who has been fighting against the enchantment, is able to escape, though he can’t break the coercion entirely.
Anne sends an accomplice to the hideout. Snow isn’t an idiot in this version, so when someone comes knocking but doesn’t use the secret knock, she knows not to open the door. And when the woman cries out that she’s collecting for the orphanage to have Christmas dinner, Snow still waits for the woman to leave before following her to give a few coins.
But Anne knows her step-daughter a bit too well. The old woman mentions the Kenigh orphanage, set up by the duchess as recompense. When Snow asks what she means, the old woman tells her of the duches who went crazy and tried to kill her stepdaughter in a fit of madness. The duke found out, she said, and the duchess was sent away to a sanitarium. But now she has been cured and repented and is in London, trying to move on with her life.
And this thought eats away at Snow – the idea that her stepmother might be cured, that she might be able to go home and have a loving family and find a place for the Lonely Ones. And so she sends her stepmother a letter, arranging a time to meet – in public, surrounded by people, for a short span of time. Again, because Snow is not an idiot.
Further evidence of Snow’s intelligence, she leaves a just in case note for the Lonely Ones. She intends to be back before they wake, but she leaves a note telling where she’s gone, on the off chance she doesn’t come back.
And she goes to meet her stepmother, who very nearly has Snow convinced that she has changed. And I love that we see Snow’s thought process, all the things she wouldn’t have believed if Anne had presented them in a different way. But still, she is cautious, careful. She arranges a second meeting and returns home.
All has not gone quite as planned there, however, because Raven woke early and found Snow’s note, and he’s really upset that she didn’t tell them. Not because they would have stopped her, but because they could have shadowed her and kept any trouble from happening. I love the relationship between these two – you’re supposed to, spoilers. But he’s exactly the kind of person Snow needs to slowly start to counteract all the crappy people who have been in her life up to that point.
But yeah, come the day Snow has arranged to meet her stepmother again, it is revealed that as smart as Snow has been, Anne’s been one step ahead of her. Welcoming Snow into her apartment, she convinces Snow to take hold of a golden orb, and then turns on some sciency-magic that’s supposed to drain Snow of her youth? Or stop her aging? Or something? I’m not sure, but it goes wrong. Raven and Cat, who followed Snow this time, burst in long enough for Snow to warn them that Anne is on the way to their hideout, and then Snow collapses.
And cannot be wakened. She isn’t breathing, she has no heartbeat, and yet, she’s warm and still alive. To keep her safe, the Lonely Ones put her in a glass cabinet and search for a way to break the enchantment. For two years, they search. Eventually, Alan joins their party to aid them in their goal, and Alan and Raven discover the Clockwork Man, who lives under London and is fascinated by sciency-magic. He gives them the key to waking Snow, for the price of Raven’s feathers.
There’s some fantastic misdirection here, where they meet a young duke at the Clockwork Man’s and have to take him back to the lair. He recognizes Snow as Jessica, and so when she is awoken from her slumber with a jolt of electricity and remembers nothing, he is the one who takes her back to her father’s estate. Her prince, in other words.
Because Anne was super crafty. Even when her magic machine failed, it still failed in a way as to take Jessica out of the picture. And even when that was reversed, it prevented Jessica from remembering her life, her friends, or all that Anne had done to her.
And just when you think that’s going to be it, that the duke will propose and Jessica will marry him, the Lonely Ones and Alan turn up at the estate in time for Jessica’s masquerade ball. They’ve been back to the Clockwork Man, and Raven has the answer to restoring Snow’s memories. But it turns out he doesn’t need them, because seeing him again, speaking with him again, in the guise of a full-blown raven, triggers their return. There’s a cheesy line about true love undoing the enchantment, Jessica turns the magic done on her back on her stepmother, and it’s happily ever after for all.
Let’s head to the checklist.
Make Snow White less of a mindless ninny? Check and check. Snow is wonderful. She is smart, and more than that, has lots of common sense. She’s a bit naive, but she makes up for it. Not once did she make me roll my eyes.
Strengthen the Queen’s motivation? I think we’re supposed to believe that Anne is a bit unhinged, and yeah, I buy that. But even more than that, she’s repressed by a society that won’t let her be a scientist. She’s restricted in the way all women were back then – be beautiful or be a mother, and if possible, be both. Anne couldn’t be a mother, and she was getting older and losing her beauty. And Jessica was just the nearest thing. It’s not as strong as it could be, but it gets a check.
Understand how poison and murder work? Yeah. See, what the original never did was talk about the apple being enchanted. It was just a poisoned apple, not an enchanted one. Maybe that’s nit-picking as it’s widely understood to be enchanted, but it’s gotta be stated. Here, it was. The “apple” was enchanted, and that’s why it worked.
Fill in the background? I love so much of what Lynn has done with this story. I love setting it against Victorian London, I love the way she explained the Lonely Ones (they were products of Anne’s experimenting to create a child), I love how science replaced the idea of dark magic. I’m still not satisfied with the father’s role in all this and why he seemed to care and know so little, but the rest of it? Was done very well.
All in all, an excellent adaptation.