Tragedy has struck the kingdom of Lorindar. Queen Beatrice is dead. In a desperate move to save her queen’s live, the sorceress Snow White casts a powerful spell, which backfires. Her mirror, the source of her powers, shatters into a thousand pieces, freeing something dark and awful. Infected by the evil, Snow White uses the mirror fragments to place her victims under her power, before kidnapping the young prince Jakob and fleeing the country. Her destination: her homeland of Allesandria, where she plans to retake the throne that was once rightfully hers, by any means necessary.
Now Snow’s best friends, Talia and Danielle (once Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, respectively) must follow her to the ends of the world, knowing full well that if they can’t cure her, they’ll have to kill her. Joining them is an unexpected ally: Gerta, who claims to be Snow’s long lost sister. As Allesandria falls to the infernal powers of a mirror-possessed Snow White and her ever-growing army of minions and monsters, only those who knew and loved her can stop her before it’s too late. Unfortunately, this mission may cost them more than they realize.
And so Jim Hines basically breaks our hearts. The fourth and presumably last in this series of fantasy adventures starring re-imagined fairy tales, The Snow Queen’s Shadow is by turns brutal and heart-wrenching. It hurts to see one of the main cast subverted and turned towards the dark side, and you keep holding out hope that there’ll be a happily ever after, all the while knowing it’s not guaranteed. After all, Hines is a master of defying expectations and going for the emotional jugular. Just look at Talia’s emotional journey in earlier books, and the major unrequited crush she still has on Snow after all this time. No, when one of the good guys (girls?) goes bad, it’s serious.
On the bright side, you have Snow’s friends, ready to do whatever it takes to save her. They’ve been lucky and successful before, they can do it again. Right? It helps that we meet the previously-known Gerta, who’s both like and unlike Snow in many ways. She is, of course, a tie to this book’s titular and predominant inspiration, the story of the Snow Queen. She’s as likable as she is somewhat dodgy — too good to be true, too mysterious to trust fully, too timely to be a coincidence. In some ways, she’s the replacement Snow White just as Charlie would occasionally replace his Angels. But she fits right in, which makes her part of the story all the more satisfying.
There’s a lot that can be said about this series, and this book as the last chapter in a larger story. It’s been consistently enjoyable, and one of the best fairy tale updates I’ve seen in many years. Hines has worked miracles in turning his fairy tale heroines into full-fledged, complex, fascinating characters, and it’s a shame to see them get put back on the shelf at the end. But then again, he’s brought them from one point of their lives to another, and sometimes you really do need to give them the “happily ever after … for now.”
In short, The Snow Queen’s Shadow is a book which works best by building on its predecessors in the series, if only so readers can fully appreciate the emotional arc and stakes. However, even on its own, it’s a powerful, exciting, action-packed adventure. Where else will you find a flirtatious Snow White and a lesbian Sleeping Beauty fighting a witch-hunting Hansel in the streets? And that’s just in the opening credits, so to speak.
Fairy tales, fantasy, action, and characters to cheer for. That’s what you’ll get here, and why you’ll kick yourself if you miss out on this series, and this final installment.