I tend to have a love-hate relationship with Tanith Lee’s writing. I find her to be very readable on occasion, but all of the rapes, craziness and death tend to stand between the plot of the book and my liking of it. White as Snow is part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale Series and the blurb declares that it is a “dark sensual retelling of Snow White,” and I would have to say that they were at least half right (which is to say, it is dark).
We begin the story with a girl named Arpazia. Arpazia is a noblewoman whose home is about to be destroyed by an invading army led by a warlord named Draco. Draco rapes Arpazia, finds Jesus and decides to marry her. Arpazia is pregnant, suffering from the trauma of having been raped and then married to her rapist and takes a dive off the deep end of insanity. She develops an obsession with an ornate mirror and completely rejects her baby when it is born. Since these are pseudo-medieval rubes, the entire palace decides that Arpazia is an evil witch and engage in victim-blaming.
Arpazia meanwhile falls for a leader among the local pagans, but is too crippled by being crazy to actually enjoy the relationship. She accidentally gets pregnant and her boyfriend dumps her when she wants an abortion. (She is blamed for sensibly not wanting to be stoned to death for technically committing adultery, and for being crazy and handling the situation badly. Also, it is totally her fault her boyfriend became depressed and apparently got himself killed.) After boyfriend disappears and the local pagan community rejects her she goes even more crazy, and unfortunately, develops an obsession about her daughter.
Arpazia ends up hiring the owner of a travelling side show (involving dwarves dressed up as the Seven Deadly Sins) to kill her daughter. Instead of killing her, the owner decides to keep her, though he panics when he discovers that Coira is actually the king’s daughter. He tries to kill her but the dwarves murder him instead. They decide to force Coira to pretend to be their mistress and go to work in a mine. Coira develops feeling for one of the dwarves but the man in question is too emotionally crippled from a life time of abuse to think of it as anything other than a business transaction and Coira is too emotionally passive to convince him otherwise.Arpazia goes even more off her rocker and confuses her abortion with her murder attempt on her daughter. She goes wandering on her own and after a complete loss of reality, locates and tries to murder Coira.
From there we have a necrophiliac mine owner with a very wide sadistic streak, more rape, and more death. Coira is rescued by her dwarf boyfriend (in a very unorthodox manner involving taking one for the team) and they go wandering off into the sunset together. If you are a fan of Tanith Lee you might like the book. Arpazia is actually somewhat of a sympathetic character, though none of the characters are really likable.