Friday, September 16, 2016

Donna Jo Napoli's New Snow White Retelling "Dark Shimmer" Released (+ Paolo D'Altan's Biancaneve)

A nice surprise turned up in the fairy tale newsroom room this week: a new fairy tale retelling by Donna Jo Napoli, Dark Shimmer. (Have to love pre-orders!)

Longtime readers are probably aware that Snow White is a tale our Fairy Tale News Hound has a special fondness for, (if you don't understand why, let's just say, she sees the tale very differently from most folk), so to find Napoli had given this tale a new skin, it was a given to add this to the library.

Napoli is a truly gifted writer whose YA retellings of fairy tales have a habit of making people see the tale - and the world - a little differently. Our perspective of the Hansel and Gretel tale has changed permanently, thanks to her book, The Magic Circle, and aspects of the Pied Piper retelling in her novel Breath, still haunt us. Dark Shimmer promises to do the same, particularly with regard for the queen in Snow White, but from a very different perspective than pop culture has been rehashing very much of late, tackling the oft-tabooed subject of mental disorders.
Here's the description:
Set in medieval Venice, this captivating fairy tale retelling by award-winning author Donna Jo Napoli explores belonging, beauty, and the transformative power of love through the eyes of a teenage girl. Dolce has grown up hidden away on an island in a lagoon. She is a giant, a freak, tormented by everyone but her loving mother. She spends her time learning the valuable secret of making mirrors. Following a tragedy, Dolce swims away and lands on an island where people see her as normal, even beautiful. Marin, a kind widower, and his little daughter bring Dolce to live with them in their grand palazzo. Eventually, Dolce and Marin marry. She secretly continues to make mirrors, not realizing that quicksilver endangers her . . . and so evil begins in innocence.

We have yet to finish reading this compelling book to give a proper review, but if you've read Napoli's other fairy tale retellings, you will recognize the unique style and "voice" she uses, to give a very personal perspective. Yet it doesn't feel like Napoli's other work either. While other books explore body image and the beauty complex, this book looks even more closely at the psychological impact of being seen as different, in combination with additional factors outside of a person's control.
Beginning the story on an island of dwarfs, where Dolce is considered, and feels, a freak, she tells the reader her story, with the narrative being a unique form of mirror, not unlike the profession she learns early on. But this liberty in learning a special skill also transforms her in ways she couldn't have imagined, changing her image from a recognizable character we feel much sympathy for, to a true freak and monster - one which is irredeemable. It is quite a feat that the reader still finds themselves moved by Dolce's story as her acts become more and more twisted, as they did at the beginning when Dolce was young, innocent and (almost) normal. (We have yet to get to the conclusion but, just like The Magic Circle had us sympathize with the witch's perspective in Hansel and Gretel, so too is Dark Shimmer proving to perform a similar feat, so far.)

From an interview with Napoli by Adventures in YA Publishing:
What do you hope readers will take away from DARK SHIMMER? 
Dolce goes insane.  I think talking about insanity is still a taboo in our society.  Some people still feel embarrassed if a loved one has a mental illness.  I wanted to show how mental illness can happen to very fine people, and when it does, they can do things -- sometimes terrible things -- that they really can't help doing. And even though you may know they can't help doing it, what they do still hurts everyone around them maybe as much as if they were in control.  It's very hard to have pity in those circumstances.  But I hope the reader can have pity on Dolce.  That's what I want very much -- for readers to see that they are capable of pity even when people do the so-called "unforgivable".
Although we recommend all of Napoli's fairy tale retellings, our favorites are those mentioned above as well as Bound, a Cinderella retelling, and Zel, a Rapunzel you likely haven't read before.

While the tale of Snow White is well know, it's the details and how it's told that makes it different and unexpected. Under the jump, we are including an excerpt from an interview with Napoli on Dark Shimmer, which has possible spoilers.

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 Adventures in YA Publishing: What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

Napoli: It was very hard for me to write the scene in which the queen gives Snow White an apple and the girl just bites right in, when she's already had attempts on her life 3 times.  I didn't feel the psychological reality of it; I mean, what kind of idiot would take the bait a fourth time? And I didn't understand what poison the queen could use that would allow Snow White to appear dead and then would allow her to awaken without permanent damage.  So I looked into various neurotoxins and discovered that the red tide that hits shellfish was exactly the right kind of toxin.  But, of course, I couldn't have Dolce just happen to think of the right toxin at the right moment.  So that meant I had to go back and figure out where I could tie in that neurotoxin... and that's how I came to delve into the death of Dolce's mother.  It all finally came together.  And Biancaneve wasn't dumb at all... she didn't choose to bite the apple.  She doesn't in fact even bite it.  She merely inhales the toxin from the fumes in the air.  All of this was a huge challenge, and I'm happy with how it gelled finally.
We hope to have a full review for you in the near future.

The lovely illustrations throughout, apart from the book cover image, are by Italian artist Paolo D'Altan. Although these illustrations were done for a children's book, we think they reflect some of that  conflict and dual nature that Napoli addresses in Dark Shimmer.


  1. This book looks fascinating! Will keep my eye out for it. Also seems to have some connections to D'Aulnoy's "Green Snake," I wonder if that was intentional?

  2. Hey! Just wanted to know your different from most people point Of view on Snow White's story!
    Lovely interview, by The way