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The Snow Queen’s Shadow by Jim C Hines (2011) brings my absolute favourite twisted fairy tale story to a close.To be perfectly honest, I’m sad that it’s over. I’m sad because of how it ended. I miss the characters already, and I’ve only just finished the book. Now I’ve got to figure out how to write a spoiler-free review…

Let me talk about the main characters because that’s something I can actually do right now. Talia (Sleeping Beauty) is a badass fighter blessed by the fairies to have beauty and grace. She’s the most introverted of our trio of heroines and would much rather speak through her body than with words. Her tendency to be serious and a little grumpy make her the perfect target for Snow White’s teasing. Talia’s endurance for said teasing is helped by the fact that she’s in love with Snow.

Snow is Talia’s opposite in almost every way. She’s outgoing, flirty, charming, playful, and impulsive. Where Talia mistrusts magic, it is Snow’s greatest tool. Where Talia would rather keep her feelings to herself, Snow wants to blow up in your face. She prizes her quick mind and way with words as much as she values her physical appearance. What both women have in common are their stubbornness and loyalty to their friends. It’s because they’re so different that they complement each other perfectly, compensating for one’s weaknesses with the other’s strengths.

Danielle (Cinderella) is sort of the medium between Talia and Snow’s extremes. She’s the most even-tempered, a fast learner with a head for strategy and understanding other’s perspectives, as well as the power to communicate with animals. She’s not a warrior or sorceress, but she has a gift for mediating and considering how far she’s come from the beginning of the series, she’s quite the remarkable leader.

All three women have had hard lives in the past but were brought together by Queen Beatrice who took them into her care. They function as a clandestine team, keeping the kingdom safe. If that sounds like the fairy tale princess version of Charlie’s Angels to you, that’s because it essentially is. The main difference is there’s more diversity and much more character work with Danielle, Snow, and Talia. From their backstories, to their personalities, to their development throughout the books, to their moment-to-moment interactions with each other, their story really comes to life. I feel like I know them, like I’m friends with them. And that’s why I’m so sad! This is the end and now I have to say goodbye… At least for now. Fingers crossed that Jim Hines will find another dashing adventure to take us on someday.

So what actually happens in this book? In an attempt at some very risky, powerful magic, Snow ends up breaking her mother’s mirror and being possessed by the demon that was trapped inside. She kidnaps Danielle’s son, Jakob, and heads back to her homeland, Allesandria, to exact her revenge on the people who betrayed her and wreak havoc on the nation. It’s up to Talia and Danielle, and their new ally Gerta, to save Snow and Jakob.

Let me address the queer representation because it’s important. Talia isn’t just some token lesbian. Her sexual orientation isn’t her defining characteristic by any means. It’s just a part of who she is, and I appreciate Hines for his respectful and accurate portrayal of that. Secondly, for anyone worried about whether Talia gets her “happily ever after”… Yes, she does. Is it perfect and everything we/she wanted? That’s a bit more complicated and part of why the ending is bittersweet, albeit more realistic.

This is why I took so long to get around to reading this, despite devouring the first three books. You know when something is so good you don’t want it to end? That. But it’s also because I didn’t know what kind of ending these women would be getting – specifically Talia. I was apprehensive. My feelings are still mixed, but at least I can understand why what happened had to happen. Why it makes sense and why the ending is appropriate. You can’t have a happy ending without some sacrifice, right? …That doesn’t mean I’m happy with the ending…

Okay, I’ve probably already said too much, but I’m kind of using this review to help me say goodbye. I need it, alright?! I’ve grown too attached… Damn fictional characters! I don’t re-read books very often, but this series is one of the exceptions. I’m going to need to read it again because I can’t let go. My heart aches to be with them again, to relive those moments of pure delight that came before this…

ERRRRR… So because I need to stop pining and give you some takeaway points…

This series should be adapted as movies. Seriously. They all read like big budget epic action/adventure fantasy.

If you’ve enjoyed the first three books, you’ll have to read this because, well, it’s the end and I can’t see anyone who wouldn’t want to follow these ladies as far as they possibly could, and dream beyond that. However, because Snow is separate from the rest of the team and spends the majority of the book as the antagonist, it’s understandably less comedic, heavier, and has the highest stakes of any of the books. Gerta, though similar in personality to Snow, simply isn’t a replacement, and because she’s new, lacks the same chemistry and history with the group. Also, be warned, the ending is unsatisfying and bittersweet. I feel like I need another book just to help me get over what happened in this one, so I can truly feel like everything’s going to be okay and move on. Maybe one day…

4/5 stars

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