Tanith Lee,
White as Snow
(Tor, 2000)

Tanith Lee takes on the mantle of a contributor to Terri Windling's Fairy Tales Series of books with White as Snow, a dark and moody retelling of "Snow White" which also incorporates elements of the Demeter/Persephone myth.

Princess Arpazia is 14 when she is taken as a spoil of war by the warrior-king Draco and brought to Delphi in his kingdom in the south, where she becomes his queen. Protected all her life, she has no knowledge of the world outside her home. In the shock of her experience, she withdraws from the world, indeed, from her own soul, becoming cold and remote.

The birth of her daughter seems to seal her off completely, and the child, named Candacis but called Coira, grows up under the care of nursemaids. She harbors a longing and a passion for her mother whom she rarely sees, a passion which goes unrequited.

Arpazia, meanwhile, finds that a young huntsman awakens her own passion, and she ventures into the woods at night where the old ways are practiced away from the disapproving eye of the church. There she becomes a queen of a different sort to the huntsman who returns Arpazia's desires which she does not recognize as love.

The familiar story unfolds with Lee's own dark and bittersweet twist: the incorporation of the myth of Demeter and Persephone. The two stories mesh wonderfully, giving the novel remarkable depth and dimension. The intricate dance of mother-daughter relationships is played out from rivalry through love to possessiveness as the cycle of life and death continues.

Curiously, the main characters of Arpazia and Coira are compelling although both are largely unsympathetic characters. They are both remote and nearly devoid of emotion and empathy. Their descent into a frozen, death-like spiritual and emotional state engages the reader's attention and sympathy, however. In keeping with the characterization, the plot unfolds slowly without dragging. Rather, the reader has the time to ponder the novel's deliciously shuddery intricacies.

As with other titles in the Fairy Tale Series, the dust jacket features a Thomas Canty cover. White as Snow is a splendid addition to a well-loved and admired series.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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