Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Fairest Book of Them All - A Review of "Mirror Mirror" by Gregory Maguire

A/N: This review was written for BookWrites, please visit them here @ BookWrites here on Blogger. 

Gregory Maguire has proved himself again. The enormously popular author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Lost has consistently given readers a minutely detailed world in which they can lose themselves. Mirror Mirror, a retelling of the fairytale Snow White is a small cut above the rest of Maguire’s books, in my opinion. Mirror Mirror offers a very different story from other fairytale “retreadings” – it shoots through multiple twists, illustrates background stories of many characters, allows the complex, multi-faceted characters to “speak” in their turn – all the while managing to stick to the storyline of Snow White.

 The story begins in Spain of 1502. Vicente de Nevada is the head of the farming estate, Montefiore. His only daughter, Bianca, keeps company with the old, crotchety, smart-aleck cook Primavera Vecchi and with the priest of Montefiore, Fra Ludovico. Everything on the estate is peaceful and life moves interrupted until the day that Vicente de Nevada unearths a strange but beautiful mirror while unplugging a small pond. He hangs it in his house – it doesn’t seem to serve any other purpose than to show the reflection of those who look into it. Soon afterward, Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia arrive at Montefiore to force the charge of finding three legendary Apples from the Tree of Knowledge of Eden upon Vicente de Nevada. He struggles against the conniving siblings’ will, but as they are children of the Pope, resistance is futile, and Vicente de Nevada reluctantly leaves his daughter Bianca in Lucrezia’s rather careless care. Cesare, a frivolous, mentally-decrepit man, goes off to find objects, men and women that please him, while Lucrezia is left at Montefiore to commandeer Montefiore and watch over Bianca. It is during this time that she becomes entrapped by what she sees inside the mirror.

 No character in this book, not even Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia, is as clear-cut as “good” and “bad.” While motives can be perceived as evil, there are motives under those motives that leave questions in the reader’s mind as to who they really are under their facade, why they are doing what they are doing, and what would they be if they had not been born into the situation they were. It brings up a question that Maguire also brought up in Wicked: Are people born wicked? Or do they become wicked through their environments? The dash of ambiguity that Maguire peppers in adds further complexity to the characters that, on a surface level, might considered evil and manipulative. 

I will readily admit that it took three readings to receive all the small details and smaller plot points Mirror Mirror had to offer. The broken bits of poetry that don’t seem to make sense on the first reading, and the “dwarf’s” speeches are strange and abstract. This is a multi-leveled storyline that begs not to be read quickly.

 This is not a children’s book, and not even a young adult book. While there are no sexual scenes in the traditional sense of the phrase, Maguire has never been one to mince words in any of his books when it comes to sex or his thinly veiled and strong dislike of organized religion. I note that Maguire seems to despise religion in Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and now Mirror Mirror.  This – and several explicit sexual mentions – is likely to be offensive to some readers.

Maguire knows what makes an impact on his readers – a phenomenal sense of imagination and the ability to communicate his imagination onto paper. He is a true lover and creator of words both unfamiliar and hilarious. But his imagination would have been virtually nothing if not for his ability to weave a story that involves the reader, invites the reader’s opinions and questions, and insists on being read multiple times. Surely, Mirror Mirror deserves a place on the “Classics” shelf alongside Maguire’s other works. 

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