I realized part of the way through A Mirror Mended, Alix E. Harrow’s follow-up to her 2021 A Spindle Splintered, that this was only sort of taking its inspiration from portal fantasy. Its true parentage, though? Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
A Mirror Mended doesn’t map on to any of the films perfectly, but the spirit of a zany journey through the ages and universes is at the core of each one. And yes, Zinnia and Charm may be brighter than the delightfully dimwitted William and Theodore, but the stoner-esque colloquialisms and the adventure in search of utopia–whether a musical revolution or a folkloric happily ever after–occupy the same spiritual space.
Zinnia’s happily ever seemed relatively assured in A Spindle Splintered, but now in A Mirror Mended we learn that all is not quite so well. Zinnia and Charm are not speaking for reasons Zinnia won’t let herself get into, and she’s replaced her best friend with a six-month binge on casual encounters of both the romantic and folkloric kind. Jaunting from universe to universe and cute hookup to cute hookup ends abruptly, though, when Zinnia is dragged into quite another kind of story.
The Sleeping Beauty archetype has always been Zinnia’s home(s). But now she’s come face-to-very-sexy-face with an Evil Queen from Snow White, and she doesn’t quite know what to do next. Run? Fight? Make out? And it all gets even more complicated when another friend appears from outside the standard storyline–has Zinnia stumbled into a much larger problem in the story multiverse than one protagonist can fix? Whoa, dude.
Zinnia’s insistence on calling people “dude” even unto moments of mortal peril can get a bit grating. But I will say that while it irritates me personally, it doesn’t undercut the drama by much. There’s still plenty of tension, and the escalation is textbook (in a good way) all the way up to the climax, which is suddenly and unexpectedly not textbook, not at all.
Harrow understands how to play into and also how to subvert conventions, and she does so beautifully in A Mirror Mended. The ending was extremely elegant. It was complete without being pat, and clever without being pedantic. Frankly, it was lovely. Zinnia has to face the music, but she still has options. Her emotional arc comes to a satisfying conclusion even as her life–not her story, but her life–goes on.
I know it’s traditional for reviewers to use “I want more stories!” as a compliment, but please understand that I mean it as an equal—if opposite—compliment when I say that I don’t want more. This is a good ending, a great one. It implies the continuation of a life that is no longer chained to Story, which is the whole point of both these books. To keep dragging Zinna back into the folkloric multiverse might be a decent franchise opportunity, but it would undermine both the world and the protagonist.
Well, okay. Maybe one more book.
A Mirror Mended will be released June 14, 2022.