The Snow Queen’s Shadow is not simply Jim Hines’ fourth book in his fairytale princess series, following Red Hood’s Revenge, The Mermaid’s Madness, and The Stepsister Scheme. He makes clear in a direct address to the reader that he sees it as the close to the series, though like any clever writer he leaves himself some wiggle room. Should he choose to end it here, it isn’t at all a bad place to bid farewell to Snow White (Snow), Sleeping Beauty (Talia), and Cinderella (Danielle).
In this perhaps final chapter, Snow White becomes the titular Snow Queen when her most important and potent magic mirror — the one made by her mother — accidentally shatters during a powerful spell. The effect on Snow is profound and immediate. She turns on her friends, to the point of kidnapping Danielle’s son, and then heads for the homeland she has been exiled from for so long, vowing vengeance. A vengeance she is more than capable of as she grows daily more powerful. Meanwhile, Talia and Danielle are joined by a mysterious young woman named Gerta as they attempt to track Snow down and retrieve Danielle’s son, along with preventing her from wreaking havoc. The question, though, is not simply whether they can save the boy or stop Snow, but whether they can do it without killing her.
The book begins with a bang of a chase/fight scene, setting the tone for much of what’s to come. Action is smoothly balanced throughout, with quieter scenes interspersed as breathing spaces between the action-packed fight scenes. The intensity is also nicely leavened by just the right amount of humor, usually of the dry variety. Dialogue is crisp throughout and the prose is cleanly effortless.
The characterization, as has been the case throughout the series, is probably the strongest aspect. Snow is a little one-note perhaps, but there’s a reason for that. Talia and Danielle, like Snow, have grown through the series and here we see them as their fully formed selves. What replaces the coming-of-age/coming-into-power characterizations of the earlier books are the wrenching emotional choices the three are forced to face. And because this is, supposedly, the final book, those relationships that have been building throughout the series now must be resolved; otherwise they become cheap gimmicks of titillation a la bad TV shows.
There is a darker cast to this book than the others (though they had their moments as well). This is fitting in a series that from the beginning has moved through the darker forest — the Grimmer forest — where these tales originated as opposed to the sunny and safe environs they’ve since moved to, especially in their well-known Disney versions. In a review of an earlier book in the series, I quoted a line from Talia to Danielle, “Just because your story had a happy ending, it doesn’t mean everyone else’s does.” That holds even more true in this book.
I’ve given four or four and a half stars to each of the prior books and The Snow Queen’s Shadow continues in that strong vein. The series has been witty, smartly engaging, and well executed in nearly every facet. Part of me is sorry to see it come to an end, but mostly I think Hines has made a great decision here. It would have been easy to play this series out for monetary gain, but he has taken the characters about as far as they can go in terms of development; anything after this would have just been the same people with different adventures. It would have been satisfying, perhaps, (though running the risk of feeling too same-old, same-old), but would have lacked the depth and emotional impact of these first four. The Snow Queen’s Shadow, with its more intense emotionality, more high-stakes decision-making, and a refusal to have a “fairy-tale ending” ends the series on a pretty perfect note. The slipper fits. Recommended.