I read Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and absolutely loved it. I adore the idea of taking a common story and putting a twist on it. I was excited about this new book, so I reserved it at the library before it had even been published.
I was sorely disappointed and that is being kind. I felt like I missed something important in the story telling process that would explain what was happening. The basic plot of the story is easy enough to follow.
Bianca de Nevada’s name literally translates into White from Snow (Nevada being a snowy region). Bianca is the daughter of a landowner, Vicente, who’s mother died during childbirth. She lives with the cook, Primavera who acts as her nanny and Fra Ludovico, a priest. While draining a lake for irrigation purposes, they find a mirror laying at the bottom and put it up on a wall in their home.
One day a campaign comes through and the Borgia siblings, Cesare and Lucrezia pay Bianca and her father a visit. The Borgia’s are historical people, known for their wicked ways. Cesare sends Vicente out on a quest to find the lost limb of the Tree of Knowledge.
The quest spans a decade and while Vicente is gone, Lucrezia drops in from time to time under the pretense of making sure Bianca is safe. She doesn’t like the girl, but is never malicious toward her until her brother, Cesare comes along and is aroused by Bianca’s beauty. Lucrezia is jealous of the attention Cesare gives to her and is bent on killing her.
She employs Primavera’s grandson, a hunter, to take her out into the forest and kill her, bringing back her heart. The hunter takes her out to the forest and tells her to run away, which she does.
This is the part where I get a little sketchy because somehow Bianca falls into a deep sleep that spans several years. While she is sleeping, dwarves look after her. The dwarves are not those that appear in the Disney cartoon, they are completely separate and odd creatures. They are not really aware of themselves as unique individuals until Bianca comes to them. They are stone shape-shifters, obviously not human. There’s nothing really interesting or endearing about the dwarves.
When Bianca wakes up, there is an odd scene where her menstrual fluid comes out in one big spurt, as if it was being held back all those years. I’m still not exactly sure what that is supposed to symbolize.
Bianca is quick to “befriend” the dwarves, although that isn’t really the correct terminology because they are not her friends. They name themselves for her with names like Heartless, Gimpy and MuteMuteMute. They speak of an eighth, their brother. He has followed Vicente on his journey. The goal was to get their mirror back. Yes, of course, the mirror that was found at the bottom of the lake belongs to the dwarves. They created it in order to study humans so that they, themselves, might become more human.
Vicente comes back from his journey with the limb. The limb contained three apples. One was left in another place for safe keeping. When he comes back, he learns his daughter is dead and Primavera has lost her tongue. Although it never states why, it is evident that Lucrezia had it cut out so Primavera wouldn’t speak the truth she knew about Bianca. Lucrezia takes one of the apples and offers a slice to the stone dwarf that is following Vicente. The creature eats the slice and then takes the rest of the apple when it is offered to him by Lucrezia.
The dwarf then leaves and returns to his brothers. They all eat from the apple. It seems to make them more human. It makes them age and change like a human would.
Lucrezia learns that Bianca is still alive from the gooseboy who saw her in the forest. The gooseboy is supposedly Lucrezia’s son, but that is another detail I missed the explanation for. Lucrezia becomes mad and tries several different ways to kill Bianca. She finally takes the last of the apples she was given and puts poison on one side of it. She gets Bianca to eat the apple by tasting from the non-poisoned side first.
Bianca goes into another deep sleep lasting for years. The dwarves recapture their mirror and take the glass out to place over her coffin. Vicente stumbles upon her and just sits there for years before wandering off and dying. The gooseboy stumbles upon her and takes the glass off her coffin and asks to kiss her. The hunter, Primavera’s grandson, comes back and stops the gooseboy and takes the pleasure for himself, awaking Bianca.
Meanwhile Lucrezia wants to be happy and will stop at nothing for it. She is obsessed with the apple and feels that if she could have only had more of it, she would be happy. She remembers the third apple Vicente spoke of and sets off to find it. When she gets there, she finds a man who is using the apple himself. He has it in place of his heart.
The end – that’s it. The whole sordid tale doesn’t make much sense to me. The story is too hard to follow and no one seems to be motivated to act the way they’re acting. Things just happen for no good reason. Nothing is really explained very well.
As mentioned before, this is a disappointment compared with Wicked. No magical world was created for me filled with wonder and emotion, friendships and excitement. Just a hard-to-follow story that is trying desperately to be exactly like, yet hardly familiar to the story of Snow White.