Book Review: Stitching Snow, by R. C. Lewis

As we know, I adore fairytale retellings, and I’m pretty stoked that they’re becoming a bigger and bigger thing right now, especially in the YA world. There’s much to explore in these tales, passed down and tweaked and expanded and shrunk over generations as our tastes, tolerances, and beliefs change. I love it when writers have sharp and clever takes on old tales, and when people are willing to push things to interesting limits, which made Stitching Snow both fascinating and delightful for me. Truly, it’s a really good book regardless, but if you love retellings like I do, you’re going to be especially into it.

R.C. Lewis took on the traditional story of Snow White, and when I say traditional, I mean the darker, more sinister version that many people have forgotten about, instead of the light, fluffy one that people are more accustomed to. She set it in space, turning it into science fiction with a complicated discussion of social commentary, colonialism, and challenging conversations about social norming. It’s a story that traces fascinating threads and turns up really interesting questions, and there are some considerable kickers (which I won’t get into here, because you may not have read it) that drive the tale in some unexpected and even darker directions.

Lewis was not playing around when it came to returning to the dark origins of a story that is, fundamentally, pretty dark to begin with. While the Snow White many people are accustomed to is one of sweet innocence, the actual story is pretty intense, and that’s the tale drawn upon here. Disney and others may have attempted to tame, bowdlerise, and mutate Snow White, but the original versions remain, and people are still talking about them. In an era when everything seems dark, returning to the complicated origins of our history and of western storytelling can be really revelatory, and, I’d argue, important.

In Stitching Snow, Essie lives out her life in a lonely mining town on an icy, brutal planet. As one of the few women in the town, she’s made herself indispensable (and unassailable) by upgrading and maintaining seven of the mining drones used to reach dark and difficult areas of the mine. The drones increase productivity, the miners are happy, and Essie lives as comfortable a life as she can in a difficult community. Her work is interspersed with intense cage fights, which she usually wins, so she can have the funds to purchase machine parts, tools, and other supplies to do the work she loves: Working with mechanical objects, programming, robots, and the like.

Her life changes forever when a lander crashes outside of town and she meets Dane, a young man who seems kind enough as he asks for her help with repairing the lander and getting it flying again. What she doesn’t realise is that Dane isn’t who he seems, and she’s about to be sucked into a conflict she wants to walk away from: In fact, the very conflict she tried to avoid years ago when she fled to Thanda, the planet she’s been calling home for much of her life. Against her will, Essie is forced into a landscape of political maneuvering, suffering, and recollections of her past as she confronts her evil stepmother, her father, and the country she tried to leave behind.

While Snow White is such a ubiquitous myth in Western society that it would be hard to get by without being at least passingly familiar with the story, you don’t necessarily need to intimately know it to read Stitching Snow. The story is great on its own as a science fiction narrative that brings up complicated issues of growing up, confronting the world, taking responsibility, and dealing with some pretty dark shit, to be blunt. Being aware that it’s a retelling creates added tension and makes it that much more fascinating to read, as you pull together pieces of the story in your mind, match them up to what you’re reading, and wonder where the narrative is going to lead you next. As soon as you realise that you’re about to read the dark and deeply upsetting version, you find yourself starting to dread the apex and crisis of the story, along with what comes next…

Essie and Dane are both complicated characters who caught in the push-pull of issues much larger than themselves. They know what they want for themselves, but the world around them has other demands that make it functionally impossible to simply be who they are without interference and interruption. It’s a common narrative in literature, and one that’s worth exploring in a YA context, as readers see that growing into maturity honestly isn’t as great as you might think it would be. With the added independence of being able to make decisions, being able to exercise choice, and playing an active role in what happens in your own life comes a layering of responsibilities and obligations to others; you can’t have one without the other.

For Essie and Dane, these responsibilities are stark and obvious, without layers of metaphor to soften them, but the implications are obvious. While we all may know what we want for ourselves, and how we want our lives to go, we don’t always get what we want, and this case is no exception. In the case of Stitching Snow, the transparency of the narrative of growing up shouldn’t be grounds for sneering at it; any reader can pick up on the fact that this book is about a lot more than it seems to be.