In this impressionistic version of the classic Snow White story, Maguire continues his unique retelling of well-known fairy tales that began with Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. The setting is Renaissance Italy, and Bianca de Nevada’s tormentor is no mere witch—she’s the redoubtable Lucrezia Borgia herself, daughter of a debauched pope and scion of a powerful family of infamous poisoners and murderers. When Lucrezia’s brother Cesare sends Bianca’s devoted father on a dangerous errand to bring back a holy relic, motherless Bianca is left in Lucrezia’s care. Jealous of the lascivious attentions her brother pays to the girl and consumed by her own vanity, Lucrezia decides to murder Bianca.
Most of the elements of the original tale remain—the mirror, the dwarves, the hunter, the poisoned apple—but this is no cutesy movie version. Maguire’s tale weaves a magical web, and though at times the story becomes beautifully surreal, darker elements always lurk. The dwarves are sometimes more rock-like than human, growing in individuality only as Bianca’s imagination imbues them with personalities. Supporting characters, such as Bianca’s querulous housekeeper and the village priest, provide brief bouts of comic relief. Bianca is so blandly wholesome that she provides the perfect foil to the characters that truly drive this story—the villains. While Cesare is menacing, it is Lucrezia who is the very personification of egocentric evil. Her casual attitude towards the atrocities she commits only highlights the contrast between herself and the pure, naïve Bianca. Maguire has a gift for breathing new life into an old story by using different points of view, and in this novel it allows him to add backstory, detail, and dimension to the characters and events. Maguire’s new twist on this classic fairy tale makes for an interesting and appealing read.