27 February, 2013

Review: The Magic Mirror And The Seventh Dwarf by Tia Nevitt

Tia Nevitt has a lot of promise. I liked (but couldn't quite love) her debut. When Dear Author featured this second tale as a Daily Deal I snatched it up. Nevitt writes with an easy style that put me in mind of Gregory Maguire at his least cumbersome. She has a fresh eye for familiar fairy tales. Taking her characters from the sidelines, Nevitt world builds like a master. I'm definitely in for her third tale and probably the one after that. Something about this author intrigues me. And yet I lack the love. The passion isn't there. I want Nevitt to take just one step further from the comfort zone.The Magic Mirror And The Seventh Dwarf (Accidental Enchantments) has a title which tells you most of what's wrong with the story. There are too many elements vying for your attention. I get that Nevitt's concept is to intertwine a slightly different version of a familiar tale with a completely new one. The difficulty she faces is making both tales equally compelling and in that she failed.

In Gretchen the dwarf Nevitt has a great character she mostly abandons for the side tale of Snow White. We all know everything we care to know about Snow White. The minor changes here don't compel me as a reader. Gretchen starts out so strong but then she fades. When we meet Gretchen she is strong, pragmatic, confident and determined to improve her life. She's a savvy commentator on the motivations of others, adept at reading faces and vocal tones. By the time we leave Gretchen she's no longer steering her own course. Gretchen has become almost tediously like our standard heroine, interested primarily in other's opinions of her. I didn't buy the lessons the author felt Gretchen needed to learn. Snow White is a complete bore. She's too good to be true and too bravely heroic to tolerate. Snow is absurdly trusting. Someone may try to rape her, someone may try to kill her, but Snow just keeps trucking. Snow's only weakness is not having friends. She's too pretty to make friends. Snow talks about being valued only for her beauty. Snow has real problems she could absolutely focus on so her insistence that beauty has been her obstacle rings false. She's the borderline anorexic girl who complains for hours about her fast metabolism keeping her from gaining weight while ignoring the laxative in her purse. Snow is used as a club to beat home the message the author wants Gretchen to learn. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whatever. Snow is also painfully dim. When the mirror presents a solution to her problems (a completely obvious one at that) Snow seems to have never considered it.

Gretchen was a dream until she met Snow. Soon she's repeatedly obsessing about her looks while beating herself up for prejudging beautiful women. It might have been more tolerable if there was real conflict about who Gretchen would pair off with but there isn't. He's going to be short and he's going to be the only short character the author spends much time on. Then there is the melodramatic villain. He's blinded by his own (comparative) beauty. He's a bully and an attempted rapist. I'm not sure what the point of that is. On the one hand, the author argues that Snow's near assault is a result of her beauty. On the other Gretchen's is about thwarted power and anger. Does a short need two such events? Does it need dual motivations? Rape is rape. Is it supposed to shock us that it would happen to anyone? It happens to 101 year old women. Is Mr. Bad Dwarf's bullying and violence just not enough? It serves little story purpose to have Gretchen experience the assault and the ease with which she (and Snow) shake it off bothered me.

Reading TMMATSDAE I thought of a dozen turns Nevitt could have taken. There were so many paths open to her once the character of Gretchen was established. I was sad that we wasted them on the conventional path of visually dissimilar women becoming friends. I was sorry that the burden to overcome assumptive bias was primarily on Gretchen. I was bored that Gretchen ended up with the most predictable partner possible. I think Tia Nevitt has some great books in her. I'm hoping in her next outing she sticks to her instinct for reinvention. If anyone could make dwarf romance a genre, she could.

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