From Publishers Weekly
Maguire has a lock on clever, elaborate retellings of fairy tales, turning them inside out and couching them in tongue-in-cheek baroque prose. After his revisionist takes on Oz's Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked) and Cinderella's ugly stepsisters (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister), he now tackles Snow White. The notorious Borgia habit of poisoning rivals inspired him to transplant the classic tale to 16th-century Tuscany, where Vicente de Nevada is an expatriate Spanish widower who lives with his daughter, the fair Bianca. Beholden to sinister Cesare Borgia and Cesare's sister (and perhaps lover) Lucrezia, Vicente is sent on what appears to be a fool's errand, to discover and steal from a Middle East monastery a branch of the Tree of Knowledge complete with three apples. When Bianca is 11, Cesare's attraction to her causes the envious Lucrezia to order a young hunter to murder her and deliver her heart in a casket. Bianca, of course, is spared and taken in by seven dwarfs. But this is not Disney; the dwarfs are boulders, stirred to life by Bianca's arrival ("a clothed, bearded obstinacy became slowly apparent"). Several years pass in surreal, dreamlike fashion, with Bianca tending to the dwarfs, who cavort stiffly and philosophize collectively. When Vicente returns successful, Lucrezia poisons an apple for her rival. Innocent Bianca's fate is gentle, but that of the corrupt Lucrezia, in brilliant Venice, is appropriately grotesque. Fairy tales in their original form are often brutal and disturbing; with his rich, idiosyncratic storytelling, Maguire restores the edge to an oft-told tale and imbues it with a strange, unsettling beauty.
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From School Library Journal
Adult/High School--A dark and vivid retelling of Snow White transposed to the Italy of the Borgias. Lucrezia is the evil stepmother and five-year-old Bianca de Nevada grows into the role of Snow White. Vicente, a minor landlord beholden to Lucrezia and her brother/lover Cesare, unwillingly leaves his motherless daughter to go on a seemingly futile errand for Cesare. Journeying to Greece to seek out a branch of the holy Tree of Knowledge, Vicente languishes for years in the dungeon of the very monks who possess the relic. While her father is gone, Bianca develops into a lovely young woman, attracting Cesare's attention. Seeing this, Lucrezia orders her killed and sends a young hunter into the woods with the familiar instructions. Adding much historical flavor and returning to the edgy eroticism of the fairy tale, Maguire invests the journeys of the Borgias, Bianca, and Vicente with a compelling urgency. Readers will be intrigued by the new story and yet curious as to how the familiar elements are brought in. Sometimes seven, sometimes eight, the dwarves, slowly awakening to their possibilities, are droll and great fun to listen to. The language has an old-fashioned quality and the point of view shifts frequently, but teens who continue to the end will learn much of medieval Italy and a little of human nature, and have a new respect for the old tale. This is a great addition to the Maguire shelf.--Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA
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