A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow is an adventurous reimagined fairy tale featuring a dying girl, her best friend, and an obsession about Sleepy Beauty.

If you’re a longtime reader of Apex Magazine, then you are already aware of the magical worlds of Alix E. Harrow. We published her award-winning story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasy” in issue 105, and “Mr. Death” in issue 121. Or you may know her from her novels The Ten Thousand Doors of January and The Once and Future Witches. Either way, you’re aware that she creates the most beautiful worlds with her words, and A Spindle Splintered doesn’t disappoint.

The story opens on Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday. Zinnia has a rare disease of which little is known, and no one who has it has celebrated their twenty-second birthday. Put bluntly, Zinnia is dying, and not in that “some day in the very far future” sort of way. 

Due to her medical condition, Zinnia’s social circle is very small (surprisingly, no one wants to be friends with the dying girl). Her parents are both constantly worrying and are, in a way, already grieving her, so when her best friend, Charm, texts her to meet her at the Tower, Zinnia is all too happy to go.

One finger prick later and she finds herself thrown into another time and another world, drawn to a girl who is living out the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale in a very real way.

A Spindle Splintered is an enchanting novella. It weaves the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale with a dash of science fiction and a whole heap of snark, and gives everything a feminist twist that makes me want to cheer. Zinnia has every reason to give up. She finds herself far from home, her doctors, and the medication that she needs. But she doesn’t give up. Instead, when she realizes Princess Primrose needs help, she does everything within her power to save the princess from the spinning wheel, her overbearing father the King, and a marriage she doesn’t want.

There is so much about this story that makes me incredibly happy—the friendship between Zinnia and Charm, the idea of Sleeping Beauties across multiple universes each fighting against their own fate, the magic and medicine. All of these come together in a way that makes the story complex and nuanced within a short page count.

A Spindle Splintered isn’t a story about a girl dying. It’s a story about a girl learning to take the time she has to truly live. It’s a story about girls from vastly different backgrounds realizing that they share the same story and should be working together to change it. It’s about fighting for their voices to be heard. It’s a story about the power of friendship and adventure.

Hardcover, 128pp, 9781250765352, Tordotcom (October, 2021)

I absolutely loved A Spindle Splintered and would recommend it to anyone who loves fairy tales and their modern reimaginings. While it’s short—you could easily read it in a day or two—it is powerful. A magical story that you won’t quickly forget.