Book Review: Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

Six-Gun Snow White
by Catherynne M. Valente
On Sale: Available now
Fantasy \ Fairy Taless\ Western \Retelling
Saga Press, 160 pages
Source: Bought
My Rating: 4 Stars

A New York Times bestselling author offers a brilliant reinvention of one of the best-known fairy tales of all time with Snow White as a gunslinger in the mythical Wild West.

Forget the dark, enchanted forest. Picture instead a masterfully evoked Old West where you are more likely to find coyotes as the seven dwarves. Insert into this scene a plain-spoken, appealing narrator who relates the history of our heroine’s parents—a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. Although her mother’s life ended as hers began, so begins a remarkable tale: equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, this is an utterly enchanting story…at once familiar and entirely new.

As a fan of reinvented fairy tales, it became very clear the moment I cast eyes on the cover and read the synopsis for Six-Gun Snow White that it would be a "must-read" for me.

Known for her word-ninja prose, Catherynne M. Valente is a storyteller that evokes the senses with her word-play and Six-Gun Snow White is no exception. Novella in size, it packs a powerful story for its size. Six-Gun Snow White is a Western retelling featuring a protagonist that is half-Crow and half-white, born into a society where she does not fit. She's loved by her eccentric father, a Nevada silver baron, who became infatuated with and later married one of the Crow's most beautiful and beloved daughters, Gun That Sings, only to loose her at the birth of their daughter.

Catherynne M. Valente relates a story of how Six-Gun Snow White was given her name by her wicked stepmother Mrs. H and how she tries to "civilize" her.

 "So you're the little Indian child," she said, and those were Mrs. H's first words to me. She looked all around the room. Looking at her felt like drinking something harsh and strong. It woke you up and made you dizzy all at once. Her eyes were green like her ring.  "I can see we have a lot of work to do," she sighed.

From that moment on, the reader is whisked away into only a world Valente could create. A world of the Old West, touches of  the Snow White fairy tale and glimpses of Native American folklore as animal spirit guides seem to be at work in this story. 

From that day forward she never used my name. Eventually, I forgot it. Ms. H called me something new. She names me a cruel and smirking, she named me not for beauty or cleverness or sweetness. She named me a thing I could aspire to but never become, the one thing I was not and could never be: Snow White.

It is a gritty, at times heartbreaking story, and, in the end, a gorgeous heroines journey. Did I understand every aspect, thank goodness no. The words play at each other sometimes in mysterious ways, but I enjoyed every moment.

Notable Scene

I need your heart.
She puts her hands up. Ten fingers.
I'm sorry. I need your heart.
Snow White opens her mouth. Milk flows out.
I just want to be loved. Didn't you ever want her to love you?
Snow White opens her chest like a cabinet. She takes out her heart. It is a ruby. It is dripping blood. It is dripping light.