“This is what it means to be a woman in this world. Every step is a bargain with pain. Make your black deals in the black wood and decide what you’ll trade for power. For the opposite of weakness, which is not strength but hardness. I am a trap, but so is everything. Pick your price. I am a huckster with a hand in your pocket. I am freedom and I will eat your heart.”
I have been a fan of Catherynne M. Valente’s since the first time I read a review of “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” in either School Library Journal or Kirkus, back when I was the Young Adult Specialist at my library. It sounded so magical, so fantastical, that I knew I needed to order it for my library. And when it arrived, I made sure to read it as soon as possible and immediately fell under the spell of September, Saturday, A-Through-L and the twisting, turning tales of Fairyland.
I’ve had this slim little number on my to-read list for a while now, and when it showed up as available on my library’s Overdrive page, I knew it was time to dive in.
Six-Gun Snow White is a fascinating take on the Snow White tale, cloaking it as a western with a half-Crow heroine who is named by her stepmother after the skin color she will never achieve. Valente has always had a talent for words, I find her prose to be so engrossing, and this story definitely showcases her skills. Written as a series of small, interconnected tales with titles like “Snow White Puts a Saddle on Her Back” and “Snow White Wears the Sun,” we are given the story of Snow White, whose mother was a Crow woman taken by Mr. H, who is kept out of sight but allowed to run free in the zoo and miniature boardwalk her father had built. Her constant companion is a revolver inlaid with red pearls named Rose Red. Her life goes on in this fashion until Mr. H brings home a stepmother for Snow White, Mrs. H. who has an ancient mirror filled with sorcery and a heart filled with malice.
Each little tale spent with Snow White is a delight, and I loved the contrast of this spit-fire girl with a revolver in one hand and a curse on her lips versus the gentle caregiver of Disney fame. This Snow White would not be easily bested by any cruel stepmother. Valente’s take on the Huntsman (a Pinkerton detective who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty) and the Seven Dwarves (a group of women outlaws) is just as delightful as you could imagine.
If anything, I have the same request I do with most books I like- I want more. I want to spend more time with these characters, more time in their worlds. I’m a covetous thing, and I want more time with Snow in the west, with pearls on her gun and wind in her hair. But I’ll be happy with the brief time I got to spend with her.