White as Snow
This book is a retelling of Snow White, with the myth of Demeter and Persephone woven in. The evil stepmother of the traditional tale becomes Arpazia, who is captured, raped, and forcibly married by the evil king Draco. Her daughter, Coira, grows up hungering for love from the mother she almost never sees. Arpazia, however, retreats into herself until awakened by her obsessive love for a young hunter. From there on out the book follows the original tale quite closely and yet almost not at all: while the events are largely the same, they are radically changed by their interpretation and context.
Tanith Lee is unquestionably a good writer. She weaves together two unrelated stories with great skill, and her prose is striking and at times quite poetic. Unfortunately, the book still fails to work. Arpazia and Coira both spend most of the book emotionally frozen, except for when they are obsessing over men; and they both have almost no capacity for empathy. This makes it difficult to sympathize with them, to say the least. There was also a great deal of sex which was not only repulsive but also badly written. Not only do the characters have sex every three pages, but the author has to tell us every single time how dizzyingly wonderful it is, and in rather purple prose. –Unless, of course, it’s one of the novel’s many rape scenes, in which case she tells us how unutterably horrible it is. (The author also attempts a lyrical description of the hero in his bath. Note to aspiring writers: do not, for any reason, attempt a lyrical description of the hero in his bath. It just. Doesn’t. Work.) And of course there was also a fair helping of abuse, torture, and general violence.
The book is also anti-Christian to the point of making itself look foolish. For instance, the Church is supposed to be cruelly oppressing the good-hearted pagans while at the same time–through some wonderful leap of logic–adopting pagan rituals. Then there’s the standard doom-and-gloom accusation: Arpazia listens to sermons that “used as their text mortal sin and trees of poisonous fruits and suffering that made God happy.” All the priests are evil hypocrites, of course, and all the good characters are pagans who sneak out to party in the woods.
Oh, and did I mention that the book’s got a strong pro-abortion message as well? Several characters make noble speeches about how “no woman should carry if she doesn’t want, can’t bear to.” Arpazia, when she goes to seek an abortion from a Wise Old Pagan Woman, is told that “the life is smaller than a grain of sand. It has no soul in it yet, even though a soul comes to watch it through the window of your belly.” Um, right.
In short, this book did not work for me on any level, and I found it repulsive and deeply offensive to boot. Don’t read it.