Catherynne M. Valente is currently best known for her young adult Fairyland Series, but she’s also won awards for her adult novels The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden and Palimpset. Her writing is utterly unique from concept to style and always a treat. So we here at The Ranting Dragon were really excited to hear about her latest release, a novella entitled Six-Gun Snow White. Released back in January, it’s proved to be a difficult commodity to come across. Subterranean is a specialty publisher, and many of its titles are only available in print for a limited run. The 1,000 signed and numbered limited edition print copies of Six-Gun Snow White have long since sold out directly from the publisher, though e-book copies are still available and print copies are available from specialty dealers.
You all know the tale of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” if not directly from The Brothers Grimm than from Disney and other children’s movies. Valente takes this classic tale and moves it to the American Old West. Snow White is the daughter of a wealthy white man and a Crow woman. When her father remarries a white woman, she finds herself neither white nor Indian in a world that prefers you to be either one or the other.
Incredible authorial voice
When I say that Valente doesn’t write like anyone else, I mean it. Sometimes she can even figure out how to not write quite like herself, either. Half of the novella is told as a narration from Snow White, telling how she came to be and the events of her early childhood. Snow White’s language is a fantastic achievement and feels very authentic to someone living on the west coast of the United States in the late nineteenth century. Moreover, she doesn’t speak with an upper crust vocabulary, but with the drawl of someone from the working classes. Her speech is full of old sayings and flowery metaphors common to older forms of English, and I found it a delight to read.
Around the half-way point, Snow White decides that telling the whole story herself is too much of a burden and turns everything over to a third-person narrator. The language shifts, but rather than changing to a modern narration style, Valente shifts deeper into a traditional storytelling style that’s more often encountered from aural storytellers than written ones. Valente draws you deep into the tale and doesn’t let you go easily.
Intriguing changes, but no real surprises
What I disliked most about this book is actually what initially drew me to it: the fact that it is a retelling of “Snow White.” I know this story inside out and backwards. I’ve read and seen a lot of iterations of the tale. While Valente makes some changes that are interesting, I wasn’t floored by them. They didn’t illicit new emotional responses to the tale from me. The farther I got into the book, the more I was reminded of Jane Yolen’s Snow in Summer, also a retelling of “Snow White,” even though the retellings have little to do with each other. In short, this is still a fairly basic retelling of “Snow White” with no attempts to disguise it. By the time I got to the real twists at the end, I had lost deep interest in the tale sometime before.
Why you should read this book
Anything by Valente is a treat as she’s one of fantasy’s foremost modern authors. If you enjoy her work, are a connoisseur of re-told fairy tales like I am, or like more literary fantasy that uses instances of indirect storytelling, you’ll find something to like here. However, if you only like reading print editions of books, this may be an expensive investment as used copies are currently available from $40. And this is a novella, so even if you read rather slowly it’s a quick read.