The Magic Mirror is a lovely, unusual romance loosely based on the fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. It is creative, tender, and lyrical. What it lacks in grand passion it makes up for in the maturity displayed by its characters.
Magic Mirror deals with several stories that overlap. In one, Gretchen, a dwarf with average-sized parents, hears a story of a farm where several dwarfs live and work together. Tired of the ridicule and loneliness she experiences in her village, she travels to the farm in hopes of finding a husband. Lars, the son of dwarfs who worked as Court jesters, also heads to the farm in hopes of finding a community. Meanwhile, the local princess, Angelika, periodically takes refuge with the dwarfs, because she is hounded by her evil stepmother (the Queen) at home.
While all this is going on, Prince Richard wanders the kingdom, bitterly ruing the day that he became the “slave of the mirror”, cursed to truthfully answer question posed by the owner of the mirror (who is, you guessed it, the evil stepmother). Of course all these plot threads end up coming together, which causes all kinds of plot stuff to take place.
This was a very well told story that felt longer than it was (in a good way – it felt detailed and relaxed, not draggy). The use of characters was creative and I found that I cared very much about all of them. The plot was fun and exciting, the use of language was expert, and there were a lot of details that really made it rise above the usual novella fare. For instance, the various plays on the theme of waking a sleeping princess with a kiss were clever, and the tricks the characters used to try to seize control of the mirror were interesting. I liked the setting – it felt very much like a European fairy tale setting, and yet it had a lot of realistic touches that kept things grounded.
One thing I appreciated was that the dwarfs are described respectfully, as people, not as comic fodder. Several different types of dwarfism are described but no one is seen as physically repellent. They have their own stories, and those stories are given as much, if not more, time as the stories of the average height characters.
I also liked the relationships between women. Gretchen has a warm relationship with both of her parents and quickly discovers a mentor in Marta, the farm's matriarch. Her initial meeting with Angelika leaves her feeling envious, but with some prodding from Marta she and Angelika develop a close friendship. Getting to know Angelika forces Gretchen to confront her less positive characteristics (mainly envy) and Angelika brings out a lighter, funnier side in Gretchen. Their girl talk is just fun to eavesdrop on.
This is a satisfying romance, but readers should be forewarned that it isn't a very passionate one. Gretchen and Angelika both assume they will marry for pragmatic reasons, and both realize that they want to marry for love. They each have a hard time recognizing love when they feel it because they are so afraid that they are confusing love with convenience. Gretchen and Angelika are much too cautious to be madly swept away, and so are their partners, but that almost makes their romances more poignant. If you are looking for an explicit book, look elsewhere, because in this one the sex scenes are very much of the “fade to black” variety. The relationships are, however, very tender and touching.
I have a big weakness for revisionist fairy tales and this is one of my favorites. It's a nice, subtle romance with not one but several fresh twists!