During my latest excursion to the library, I stumbled upon Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire on audio book and was super excited. He’s the author of Wicked and Son of a Witch, both of which I loved. I’m a sucker for fairy tale re-tellings and Maguire has a knack for flipping a well-loved story on it’s head to make it into something entirely new, and often from an unexpected perspective.
A Little Background
The world was called Montefiore, as far as she knew, and from her aerie on every side all the world descended.
The year is 1502, and seven-year-old Bianca de Nevada lives perched high above the rolling hills and valleys of Tuscany and Umbria at Montefiore, the farm of her beloved father, Don Vicente. There she spends her days cosseted by Primavera Vecchia, the earthy cook, and Fra Ludovico, a priest who tends to their souls between bites of ham and sips of wine.
But one day a noble entourage makes its way up the winding slopes to the farm – and the world comes to Montefiore. In the presence of Cesare Borgia and his sister, the lovely and vain Lucrezia – decadent children of a wicked pope – no one can claim innocence for very long. When Borgia sends Don Vicente on a years-long quest to reclaim a relic of the original Tree of Knowledge, he leaves Bianca under the care – so to speak – of Lucrezia. She plots a dire fate for the young girl in the woods below the farm, but in the dark forest there can be found salvation as well …
The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say.
I’m going to start of by stating that this book was not my cup of tea (I’m actually more of a coffee drinker…). That said, it was a beautifully written work full of intricately descriptive prose and an intriguing splash of history. The writing style was impressive, flipping back and forth between not only different characters, but also different perspectives, told from both first and third person perspective in turn. Despite the confusion you’d think this might cause, Maguire manages his POV flips in such a way as to draw the reader in with his skillful story weaving style. Overall an artfully written piece.
His characters on the other hand were a different story. Typically Maguire flips a tale around, telling his reader the other side of the story, the way he made people fall in love with Elphaba in Wicked. The wicked witch in this particular story, played by Lucrezia Borgia, was simply that- a wicked witch of a woman with no redeeming characteristics. Her character, based roughly off the historical Borgias, was one heinousness after another hidden beneath a thin veneer of faith and righteousness. Incest, vanity, murder, treason… Her character is played off as a victim of circumstance, raised and abused by a corrupt family, but you can really only loathe her. She’s so hateful that she’s corrosive.
On the other hand, the lovely and innocent young Bianca (our so-called “heroine”) is two-dimensional, playing only a minor part in her own story. My favorite characters were actually the dwarves, creatures constantly evolving in form and function, given life and emotion by their interactions with humans.
As mentioned above, this story is not for young readers, filled with sexual innuendo, unnecessary descriptions of gross human anatomy, incestuous relationships, and religious impropriety. Some descriptions and scenes were highly disturbing and distracted from the story.
Overall I give this piece three out of three stars. It was well-written with a poetic ending, but not something I’d recommend for the average reader unless you’re looking for a very gritty psuedo-historic piece.