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 have read bits and pieces of Gregory Maguire’s books over the years, including the first few chapters of Mirror Mirror. For one reason or another, I have never fully finished one of his books. Sometimes it was due to lack of interest or time to truly focus on the story at hand.
However, this time around, I forced myself to focus on this particular book and I almost wish I had once again tossed it aside for another day. I cannot truly tell you if the book itself is awful because I was so overloaded with unnecessary side stories about the Borgias that it was hard to keep reading. Finally, I found myself quickly skimming the pages until I came to a point of view that didn’t utterly bore me or at the very least didn’t ramble on and on about trivial and sometimes idiotic things.
I know very little about the Borgias family. I remember briefly googling them when the television show aired a few years ago and though I had meant to watch it, I never did. So much of this book was hard for me to follow. It was as if you had to understand the full extent of the family and their legacy to understand why they were the way they were. When in truth, without such a legendary name, Lucrezia might have been an interesting replacement for Becca’s (i.e. Snow White’s) stepmother. Between her clear attraction to her older brother, her own disregard for her children (including attempting to murder one of them) and her desire to thwart her superiority over everyone, you can easily love to hate her. Much like the original tale of Snow White, Lucrezia’s reasoning for wanting Becca disposed of stems from her jealousy of the child. For at the young age of eleven, Becca has managed to attract the attention of Lucrezia’s older ailing brother, Cesare Borgais. This fills Lucrezia with jealousy for the girl and she views the girl as a threat, for it is clear, Lucrezia and her brother had once been intimate and she longed for the return of that relationship.
As bogged down as this story was with annoying Borgias propaganda and idiocy, it almost felt as if Maguire decided to throw everything at the wall and see what would stick. For example, Ranuccio (i.e. the Huntsman) recalls a tale in which he stumbles across a unicorn which is seeking an end to its life. The mere act of the unicorn lowering its horn to Ranuccio’s lap causes him to “release” himself within his trousers. This is a disturbing scene to witness, especially since the lore around unicorns is supposed to geared towards representing true innocence. The dwarves believe themselves to be rocks and it is clear they are just as dense as that in which they see themselves as. They come up with nonsensical names such as “MuteMuteMute” and “Heartless”. They have no sense of individuality or being until Becca arrives by chance at their door. And then there is the rock monster that helps Becca’s father, Vincent de Nevada escape from his imprisonment and retrieve the two apples from the Tree of Knowledge.
There were some interesting prospects and twists thrown into this tale and perhaps if Maguire hadn’t felt so compelled to focus on the Borgias, it would have been a solid read. But for anyone looking for a twisted fairytale, this is surely one you can pass on by. I give the author credit for creativity. But if he was so obsessed with this family, he should have written a twisted tale on their history, because by incorporating them into this tale, he managed to ruin any good or interesting ideas he had for this story.