Twelve-year-old John Creed has been having problems at school for some time – his prominent stutter and the scars on his face from the car crash that killed his parents combine to make him a prime target for bullies. And to make things worse, he’s started noticing something strange: Many of his classmates’ reflections have wolf heads.
Thankfully, he’s also managed to make a friend recently – Fyre King, a classmate who’s eager to help him find a solution to his little wolf problem… but she has secrets of her own…
First off, I should reiterate what it says on the cover: This is not a fairytale. There is a vague connection to fairytales that reveals itself about halfway through book, but it is in no way major enough to consider this a fairytale retelling or re-imagining of any kind (and there’s no connection to Snow White at all), even though the title and tagline are clearly meant to bring fairytales to mind. That said, I also wouldn’t consider this a horror story – it’s just not scary enough.
What it does feel a lot like is a mystery novel. The story begins almost like a crime drama, with a scene of a man being killed by a giant wolf, before we’re introduced to the actual main characters – and this aspect of the story was very compelling. I feel like a big deal was made of Fyre’s secret, however, only for it to be revealed in the least dramatic way possible, to a resounding “meh” from the rest of the cast, and Caspar’s trouble with his father played out only marginally better…
In the second part of the book, the tone shifts drastically, and the book almost seems to become an action story, with the main cast all fighting for their lives, which was a somewhat jarring transition that I didn’t entirely appreciate. I did, however, really like the ending, which took an unexpected turn and surprised me pleasantly.
Our main character is John Creed, whose circumstances – the scars and the stutter and the visions – are quite interesting, but whose personality is rather bland. He is, however, a very likeable protagonist, and children in his age group (12 to 13) would probably also find him quite relatable.
His friend Fyre is cut from a similar mould. She stands apart from most her peers because she’s an albino (though she’s never actually been unpopular), and decides to befriend John because she finds him interesting… and because her mother asked her to. Cool and confident, she makes a good foil for John’s shyness, and their friendship is quite sweet to read about.
Lastly, there’s Caspar Locke, who is both Fyre’s ex-boyfriend and John’s chief antagonist. Unlike most books that heavily feature bullying, we actually get to see things from his perspective occasionally, and these brief sections were some of my favourite parts of the story. Caspar initially comes off as just your typical schoolyard bully, but we quite quickly learn that there’s a lot more going on with him (though, thankfully, the book doesn’t try to use this as a way to excuse his behaviour).
Snow, White is for the most part set in modern-day London, and therefore doesn’t really require much world-building. There is, however, talk of a parallel universe in the second part of the book – a kind of dark fairytale world where the wolves originally came from, and that was once ruled by an Ice Queen. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the two worlds were very well combined. When the parallel world is first brought up, it seems quite out of the blue, and it’s a shame that we only ever see glimpses of it. I did appreciate the brief history that Austin gave us of it, but I think the book would have been improved if we’d actually gone there.
The writing is enjoyable, but somewhat inconsistent – the book is divided into two parts (and a prologue and epilogue), and Austin’s writing style changed noticeably for each one. The first part of the story focused on the mystery of John’s visions, and was written in an eerie, haunting style that I really liked. Part two read more like an action novel, which I wasn’t such a huge fan of, but the descriptions of John’s abilities were both striking and inventive, and the pacing was quick and engaging.
OVERALL IMPRESSION [3/5]
An interesting book conceptually, that’s quite well built-up in the first half, but suffers somewhat from too many different styles and genres being mashed together in the second, and from some slightly bland (though likeable) characters. Though it’s pitched as a Young Adult book, I think that younger readers are probably more likely to enjoy it.
Fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy will probably like the chilly atmosphere of Snow, White, particularly in the first part of the book – though in all other ways this is a very different kind of story. You might also enjoy this if you liked Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods or Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper & the Spindle.