Girls Made of Snow and Glass
You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers.
Okay, I’m still not a romance fan. Having now read both of Bashardoust’s books, I feel I can safely say that, while I love the worlds and the stories she creates, I don’t love her style of romance. I don’t love the will-they-won’t-they-couple-always-lying-to-each-other-and-then-getting-mad schtick that seems to be so prevalent in romance stories in general. However, Girls Made of Snow and Glass and Girl, Serpent, Thorn both make it clear up front that there’s going to be romance and I knew what I was getting into, so I really can’t complain.
If one disregards the rather trite romance, Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a feminist retelling of “Snow White,” and it’s wonderful. It starts out pretty slow, but picks up quickly enough in the second half of the book. Raised more or less in isolation in a land where winter never ends, Lynet is a bored fifteen-year-old princess who vents the restless energy she seems to have been born with by climbing all over her castle against the explicit instructions of King Nicholas, her weak-willed helicopter father. The only person she can really confide in is Mina, her stepmother, the ambitious daughter of an equally ambitious magician. Having never known her birth mother, Lynet is devoted to Mina and regards her as her true mother, though her father discourages this as strongly as he discourages her climbing. (If you don’t want to strangle him yet, I really don’t know what to tell you.) Owing to Nicholas’s utterly infuriating inability to make up his mind as much as his desire to protect his daughter from the Big, Scary World, Lynet and Mina are both trapped in unhappy situations. Lynet is rigidly controlled in everything she does; Mina has been lured into a marriage that seemed promising but turned out to be deeply dissatisfying. Lynet has power over snow and Mina has power over glass, but both have been so bulldozed by their fathers that neither is aware of her full potential.
Snow and Glass is a nuanced study in the number of ways control can be exerted: Lynet’s father is loving and attentive, but is so rigid in his outlook and so convinced of Lynet’s fragility that he refuses to allow her to do anything; Mina’s father is harsh and domineering, and uses sarcasm, threats, and physical force to force Mina to behave how he wants. Between the two of them, they manage to pit their daughters against each other in what seems like it might be a fight to the death, until they finally realize they don’t have to follow the paths their fathers have pushed them onto. Their mutual realization that their fathers have been holding them back is the most powerful part of the book. Deprived of her father, Lynet is forced into the real world, which she learns to navigate with the help of Nadia, the new palace surgeon; meanwhile Mina rebels against the limitations her father has set on her, and eventually realizes exactly how much he’s been manipulating her since the moment she was born.
It would be easy for the story to follow the usual line and turn Lynet against Mina, but it doesn’t. Even knowing that Mina wants to be queen and is willing to do quite a lot to keep the title, Lynet doesn’t want to destroy her; she wants to save her. She genuinely loves Mina and wants to be her daughter. She does have a moment where she turns against Mina following a huge misunderstanding, but they ultimately reconcile and learn to work together, in the process learning how powerful they actually are. Apart they seem destined to be rivals, but together they set out to create a kingdom stronger and more unified than the one Nicholas left behind.
“I never wanted to be queen until I saw how much good you had done for the South and knew that with my powers, I could do the same for the North,” [Lynet] said in a rush. “But that doesn’t mean I want to neglect the South again. This kingdom is broken, and I can’t fix it alone.” She was gaining confidence in herself, her words becoming firmer, a spark of fire in her eyes. “Do you understand what I mean now? The North needs me, but the South needs you. This kingdom needs us both.”
No, Mina didn’t understand. She was too busy watching her stepdaughter, the girl who had peered at her from a tree so long ago, transform herself into a queen, assured and clear in her purpose. “What are you saying, Lynet? We can’t both be queens.”
Lynet shook her head, her excitement growing. “I know that, but we can’t keep doing things the same way as before – it hasn’t helped anyone. We have to tear the old way down, so we can build something new. I’m creating a new position – a governor to rule the South in my stead, someone who understands what the South needs and will work with me to unite the kingdom. And I’m naming you as the first governor of the South.”
I wish I could completely overlook the romance, but, since it forms a large part of the story, I can’t just leave it out. There’s no nice way of saying this. I like Lynet. I like Nadia. Do I like them together? No, I don’t. Their relationship is never fleshed out as much as it could be, and relies almost entirely on tired romance tropes. Girl meets girl. They are mutually attracted but painfully awkward when they realize how much they want each other. They separate briefly but meet again under exciting circumstances. No, wait, Nadia was a spy hired by Mina’s father to keep an eye on Lynet. The rest of their relationship is Lynet longing for but spurning Nadia on the grounds that she doesn’t know if she can trust her, which would be fair if it weren’t so obvious that Nadia is willing to do pretty much anything for Lynet. There’s only a certain number of times they can share a meaningful, heartfelt glance but still angrily turn away from each other before I start yelling “Oh, COME ON!” (For the record, that number is two.) Their relationship was even more frustrating than Nicholas, because at least with Nicholas I knew he wasn’t going to be around forever. And, while we’re at it, it was never clear to me why they’re so into each other, aside from sheer physical attraction. Lynet first takes notice of Nadia because she’s unusual, but Nadia risks everything to help Lynet because……….why? A lot of her motivation has to do with her guilt over her role as spy, which makes sense, but why does that need to turn into a romance? Why can’t they just be friends? Why does every character under the sun have to be shoehorned into a romance? Their whole relationship seemed very forced to me, and I’m really not into it. Again, I never like romance so I’m not sure how much my opinion should count, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re similarly aromantic.
Leaving aside the irritating romance, however, this book was extremely well done. It’s not a scene-by-scene recreation of the original “Snow White”; in fact, it fixes the problems I have with the original and presents a completely new story. It suffers from a bit of slowness in the beginning and it’s at about the same level of predictability as Girl, Serpent, Thorn, but overall I really enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s into feminist fantasy retellings.