Snow & Rose: Into the woods… Who knows what may be lurking?

Reposting to include Rebecca’s new review.

Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin fantasy book reviewsSnow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin fantasy book reviewsSnow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

Snow & Rose (2017) is a charming middle grade level retelling of the Snow-White and Rose-Red fairy tale with illustrations by the author, Emily Winfield Martin. Rose and Snow are the beloved eleven and nine year old daughters of a nobleman and his commoner wife, a sculptor. Rose has black hair and rosy cheeks, and is patient and gentle; Snow has white-blonde hair and icy blue eyes, and has a wilder and more adventurous personality. They have a fat grey tabby cat called Earl Grey (I adore that name! I want to adopt a grey cat now and name him Earl Grey) and had a large house with servants, a library with shelves that reached the ceiling, and a spectacular garden, half white flowers and half red, in honor of the two girls.

Shortly before our story began, however, their father disappeared in the woods one day without a trace, and their mother and the two girls were turned out of their mansion and moved into a cottage in the woods. The three are gradually adjusting to their new life. But Snow refuses to believe their father won’t return ― she lurks around their old home, spying on the family that’s moved into it ― and their mother is absentminded, burdened by sorrow. The girls can’t help but wonder about their father’s disappearance, why and how the woods would spirit someone away.

The wondering burned inside them both but took different shapes because of what they believed. Rose wanted to know why their father had been taken, and Snow wanted to know how to get him back. Their wondering touched the edges of things they could never know, about this place that had changed their fortunes once and would change them again.

Despite their fear of the woods, eventually Snow and Rose begin to venture out to explore off the beaten paths. They find a new friend, a boy who lives underground and grows mushrooms with picturesque names like Flea’s Parasols, Golden Pence, and Mouse’s Buttons. They also discover an unusual library, filled with little objects that you check out rather than books (the librarian assures the girls that these are nonetheless stories). But Rose and Snow also come across more ominous things in the woods: bandits, wolves, a very rude little man and an enormous bear.

Snow & Rose doesn’t veer too far from the original Grimm Brothers folk tale, but Martin adds depth and details to the characters and their experiences. The two sisters are well-realized characters with fully distinct personalities as well as appearances, and with concerns and emotions that ring true. The story emphasizes the ties of family, especially the power in the bond of sisterhood, rather than romance, which is refreshing. The magical aspects of the tale are subtle, for the most part, lurking around the edges of the story rather than taking center stage. One can almost imagine this tale taking place in olden times in our world.

Martin also includes some unexpected elements in her story: the library and its quirky librarian; the bandit group that gives the girls some scares; a Huntsman with a fur cape and feathered cap, who may be both a rescuer and a threat. There are periodic interludes where the trees watch as two mysterious beings, an old one and a young one, discuss the girls and their fate. These elements were creative and add color to the tale, but didn’t play a large enough role in the plot to feel fully realized as an integral part of the story.

Snow & Rose is a deliberately paced story that some readers might find slow … until the ending, which unaccountably was a bit rushed. But I was immersed in Martin’s evocative language and whimsical images, both verbal and visual. As a middle grade/children’s chapter book, Snow & Rose is fairly simply told, but the writing and pictures are delicately lovely. I recommend it for readers, both young and older, who like traditional fairy tale retellings.

~Tadiana Jones

Emily Winfield Martin

Emily Winfield Martin


Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin fantasy book reviewsThe fairy tale of “Snow White and Rose Red” is a potent one: it has giant bears, ruthless dwarfs, a dark forest, and two little girls who are total opposites in looks and personality. According to the back of this retelling, author and illustrator Emily Winfield Martin has been “enchanted and haunted” by the tale her whole life, which certainly explains this rich and lovely new take.

Rose and Snow are two sisters who have fallen into dark times after the disappearance of their father. Along with their mother, they’re forced to relocate from a fine manor house to a small cottage in the forest, place full of strange encounters and dark rumours. For the most part, the story is concerned with the way the little family survives in the forest: the friends they make, the places they explore, the stories they tell, but eventually a few familiar elements creep in…

The girls come across a little dwarf in mortal peril who is incredibly ungrateful at their rescue, and a wounded bear eventually comes to the cottage door in winter in need of assistance.

Not everything works in Snow & Rose: there’s a sojourn into a whimsical library of objects that is never fully explained and doesn’t come to any particularly rewarding conclusion, but for the most part this is a beautifully fleshed-out take on “Snow White and Rose Red”, which not only makes Snow and Rose two distinctive characters, but gives depth and greater meaning to their story.

It’s as simple and delicate as Martin’s illustrations, a series of watercolours that capture the girls and their forest world, all beautifully bound in hard-cover. It’s a book that you’ll want to keep on your shelf and read to your grandchildren, a lovely blend of the old tale with new material that enriches the familiar beats. It’s mysterious and suspenseful and magical — like all the best fairy tales.

~Rebecca Fisher

Published October 10, 2017. Snow and Rose didn’t know they were in a fairy tale. People never do…. Once, they lived in a big house with spectacular gardens and an army of servants. Once, they had a father and mother who loved them more than the sun and moon. But that was before their father disappeared into the woods and their mother disappeared into sorrow. This is the story of two sisters and the enchanted woods that have been waiting for them to break a set of terrible spells. Bestselling author-illustrator Emily Winfield Martin has created a world that sits on the border of enchantment, with characters who are grounded in real emotions that readers will recognize in themselves.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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2 comments

  1. I like the idea that we see some interiority from the title characters; and I love the idea of the Library of Things!

    • The library was a cool idea; I just wish Martin had done a little more with it, and with her “What the trees saw/knew” concept.

      I’m going to pass this book along to my mother, who’s a fan of fairy tale retellings. I have every confidence that she’ll love it.

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