Mirror Mirror

By Gregory Maguire

29,917 ratings - 3.28* vote

The world was called Montefiore, as far as she knew, and from her aerie on every side all the world descended.The year is 1502, and seven-year-old Bianca de Nevada lives perched high above the rolling hills and valleys of Tuscany and Umbria at Montefiore, the farm of her beloved father, Don Vicente. There she spends her days cosseted by Primavera Vecchia, the earthy cook, The world was called Montefiore, as far as she knew, and from her aerie on every side all the world descended.The year is

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Book details

Paperback, 280 pages
October 1st 2004 by Regan Books

(first published October 14th 2003)

Original Title
Mirror Mirror
0060988657 (ISBN13: 9780060988654)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


This book would have entertained me better if it had been on fire.
I rarely ever put a book down before I have finished it, no matter how bad it is... but I not only put this book down, I gave it away. The cafe I was reading it at had a collection bin of books to send to the needy in Africa. After forcing myself to read it for several days, I walked right over and tossed it in. Sorry to whoever receives the book, perhaps it will be better than reading nothing, though I doubt it.

Overall the book was a slow-read with undeveloped characters. I felt myself wishing it would all just end. I suggest any one looking to read this book study up on their Roman history and the Borgia family. You'll need it for this, and if you don't know it you might feel a little lost.

In all fairness though I didn't like "Wicked". Everyone else on earth seemed to have loved it, so I truly felt like maybe I missed something. So onward I went in the Maguire books. Sometimes we all make bad decisions.


Okay, well. Shana and I were at the Used Book Sale at St. Agnes yesterday and she chided me for buying this when I said I'd probably dislike it.

I said I would because I'm not sure anything Maguire does will compare with the freshness, the intrigue and the delight I found in Wicked. Or the quiet painterly tension in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, which I liked almost as much.

The gimmick, of course, is getting old. In Mirror, he takes Snow White into the viper's nest of the Borgia family in 16th century Italy and, well, it sort of falls flat. None of the characters get enough page time to really develop at all, not the way Elphaba did. You don't get into their minds and see the classic flat fairy tale twisted on its edge.

What's the point in retelling a fairy tale if the retelling is as one-dimensional as the original story?

His graceful way with words is still there, of course, as is his ability to draw away from one scene and fall seamlessly but intentionally into another, stitching the two side by side in the right way. But perhaps the story of Snow White doesn't carry as much weight as the complex Wizard of Oz (which, of course, draws on a far meatier starting point in L. Frank Baum than the usual flat fairy tales) or the quiet injustice of Cinderella (made SO palpable you barely remember the original story's destination).

But I was still disappointed. I still expected Maguire to pull through, no matter how many oddly-angled dwarf chapters I read or how artlessly he tried to make the cunning and terrifying Lucrezia Borgia into the flat vain Wicked Witch. Not to mention how utterly boring Bianca de Nevada was.

Pity. I guess I'll still read Lost and finish out the Maguire oevre.


I'm a little surprised to see so many dismal/mediocre reviews of this story here. I found myself to be just as fixated by this story as I was by Wicked (I can't say that about another of his popular novels, The Ugly Stepsister).

I appreciated the position Gregory took in this re-telling of Snow White. I found the inclusion of an actual historical family (the Borgias) intriguing, although I'm not going to research them. I absolutely adored his description of the "dwarves" and I think that's where Maguire's storytelling capabilities are best shown: his ability to give description to the obviously indescribable. I almost covet his imagination and creativity and would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Wicked.


I really hated this book. It was like Snow White on acid. Very fragmented and choppy. Even the book cover was creepy. I love retold fairy tales, but I thought this one was a bit of a stretch, and just...weird. I couldn't tell where it was try to go; was it a horror story, a murder mystery, a complete mistake? All in all, it was trying too hard to be too edgy, in my humble opinion. Mirror Mirror didn't recapture the magic that all of Maguire's other novels held. I was really disappointed.

In fact, did I even finish reading this? I don't even remember. Bad sign.

Sorry, Gregory Maguire. That's a strike.


This is by far the least appealing and satisfying of the Maguire fairy tales I've read. I'm not really sure where to begin! I was all set to devour this retelling of Snow White, set within a beautiful Italian landscape and with the wicked "stepmother" cast as an untraditional outcast of royalty. (Maguire does possess a gift for understanding the prevalence of politics these stories imply.) However, the rest was slow going. Unfortunately, I will have to re-read it to give more specific reasons for disliking it. (Yes, it's that unremarkable.) All I remember was persevering to the end because of my stubborn insistence of finishing things I start, and then regretting it.


"The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say."

"What child does not feel itself perched at the center of creation?... Small children know the truth that their own existense has caused the world to bloom into being."

"Speaking uses us up, speeds us up. Without prayer, that act of confession for merely existing, one might live forever and not know it."

"Faith is a floor. If you don't work at making it for yourself, you have nothing to walk on."

"Silence can be tactical. Even God used silence as a strategy."

"The way a man slakes his thirst and a woman slakes her thirst are not identical, for they thirst for different things."

"She sat amidst us, more or less naked as a human baby, looking, but it was we older brothers - older than trees, older than wind, older than choice - who were born in her presence."

"[He] put his mouth to hers and apologized."

"Out of our need we patronize our artists, we flirt with our poets, we petition our architects: give us your lusty colorful world. Signal to us a state of being more richly steeped in purpose and satisfaction than our own.

Thanks to our artists, we pretend well, living under canopies of painted clouds and painted gods, in halls of marble floors across which the sung masses paint hope in deep impasti of echo. We make of the hollow world a fuller, messier, prettier place, but all our inventions can't create the one thing we require: to deserve any fond attention we might accidentally receive, to receive any fond attention we don't in the course of things deserve. We are never enough to ourselves because we can never be enough to another. Any one of us walks into any room and reminds its occupant that we are not the one they most want to see. We are never the one. We are never enough."

"...puzzled curiosity. A raging patience. An articulate simplicity. A womanliness. Or perhaps it was that she seemed like one who didn't worry about what it meant never to be enough. The absence of such a care on her brow filled her with an unearthly beauty that I could neither achieve nor abide."


At first I was a little surprised by all the negative reviews of this book. I think it's one of his best. In fact, I ended up liking it better than Wicked. The first time I read the book, I didn't really "get it." The second time though, I was floored. It strikes me as a psychological and metaphorical novel. Whereas Wicked and it's sequels are pretty much straight-up exciting storytelling rife with action and politics, Mirror Mirror has extended sections that in first reading are confusing. But in those chapters, Maquire delves into the netherworlds of the psyche and one never quite knows what is real and what is not. I didn't find Blanca boring. Granted, she is not the fully-fleshed character that Elphaba is, but she is representative of innocence on the brink of womanhood. The dwarves are intriguing in how they morph and communicate. It is a land and time of mystery that Blanca inhabits, but one tainted by the world of the Borgias. Of all his books, this is the one that warrants multiple readings.


Erin Gort
Ms. Houseman
H World Lit
5 May 2008

Gregory Maguire
Mirror Mirror
New York: Harper Collins, 2004
280 pp. $16.00

The novel “Mirror Mirror” was an immense letdown after reading “Wicked” and “Son of a Witch.” Gregory Maguire is noted for recreating or retelling previously created tales of fantasy. “Mirror Mirror” is the reinvented story of Snow White. Placed in the fantasy tale are Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, the famous children of Pope. They plan the demise of Bianca De Nevada, the innocent and pure Snow White. The novel has difficult Italian vocabulary and requires history of Rome and the Borgia family. Maguire constantly changes the scene and character throughout the novel, leaving characters dull and undeveloped. These flaws in the writing cause the reader to be left bored and confused.
The requisite fairytale ingredients are present - magic mirror, dwarves, beautiful girl, evil authority figure, and random unicorn. But even with these, one is left disappointed by the fact that Maguire seems to devote more attention to the context and history of the story than to the story itself. Maguire clearly did a great amount of research for this book, and that should be applauded. Even so, the book left the reader longing for more fantasy and less history. Maguire interspersed his text with a great deal of Italian words and when you add that to his eclectic vocabulary. Stumbling over the pronunciation of half of the words was surely not helping the story flow, but unfortunately, the story already seemed incredibly disjointed and murky. Maguire’s usual love of the complex characters does not appear in this in this story, instead they were just unfathomable and flat. Many of the characters had great history behind them, but not enough detail and intrigue to enchant the novel.
The most one-dimensional character is the main character Bianca. She never is fully developed as an intriguing character because she spends most of the book asleep or suspended in time. As a symbol of innocence and purity, though, she is the center of the novel around which everything else revolves. She is forbidden to live her home on the farm. When talking with Cesare Borgia they discuss her view of the world outside of her view. She says, "I seldom leave the farm -- only once or twice to the village at the ford of the river a few miles on, and then only with my father. Years ago. This is world enough for me, up here. I play with the birds. I climb the apple trees. I used to try to make friends with the servant girls, but since my father left, they have gone away too. Primavera feeds me, and when he remembers, Fra Ludovico sees that I keep to my devotions. I've learned a few letters and I can write my name, some modest sentences. I can swim; the gooseboy taught me how. I milk the cows when the farmer is too drunk to come up the hill to do it. I collect the eggs and help pull beans from their runners and tomatoes from their vines. I help Primavera move the potted lemon trees into the limonaia for the winter. In the summer I pick oleander, lavender bells, and fennel for the shrine in the chapel wall. I watch the moon in its swelling and subsiding" (Maguire 86). Bianca is a dull and uninteresting character with nothing to intrigue the reader or leave them wanting more. She falls flat of Snow White, whose classic story at least kept the girl mysterious and captivating to the reader. What's the point in retelling a fairy tale if the retelling is as one-dimensional as the original story?
Gregory Maguire does not live up to the praise and glory of “Wicked.” He left the reader utterly confused and bored. He simply goes too far into the background history and context of the characters that he deprives “Mirror Mirror” of a stimulating storyline for the reader. By using Italian terminology and foreign history Maguire damages his hopes of having another bestseller. He leaves the characters without a life that attention-grabbing and unique, boring the reader and leaving the book unsatisfying.


Stuff I Read - Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire Review

I was surprised how much I liked this book. I probably shouldn't have been, because I liked Wiked, but in some ways I was disappointed with Wicked as well, with how it dealt with the Dorothy aspects of the story, and I am much more a fan of the Oz books than I am with anything Snow White related. Of course, that's possibly why I liked this one more, because I was less invested in the setting. Also, I'm a sucker for historical fantasies and this is a good one, visiting Provincial Italy during the squabbles of the Borgias and the Medicis and all the rest. It's a compelling read, tragic and full of flawed characters.

The one character that really isn't flawed, of course, is Bianca. She makes an excellent Snow White, being basically a child, trapped by that innocence and ignorance. She is, in many ways, the mirror of Lucrezia, who becomes more the main character of the story. At the very least, the story is more about Lucrezia's life and her arc. She is the woman who falls in love with her brother. She is the woman who is sold off into marriage not once but three times. She is the one who cannot find happiness because she is never allowed the power to hold it. That she becomes a creature trying desperately to destroy Bianca is her own lashing out at the image in the mirror, at her own past and her own history, trying to kill it because of the harm it did to her.

The story is also filled with some great fantasy. The dwarves are the clearest illustration of this, a sort of living earth that separate and gain individualism only through interactions with the human world. They are not quite the colorful and vibrant characters from the movie, but there is an element of that there. They are products of mainly Bianca's mind, and she gives them consistency until they are able to enter into the human world fully. But it is a fool's errand, as are so many of the things in the story. Vicente's quest for the apples, Cesare's for support, Lucrezia's for Bianca's death, and the dwarves quest for the mirror. Each are for things that they think they need, and each end poorly because they are looking in the wrong place.

I liked the religious aspect of this all, too, the way that it's used, the hypocrisy of it, from the Pope using Lucretia to imply that he had incestuous dealings with her to the apples offering nothing of the positive knowledge they should have given to the monks imprisonment of Vicente for so long. It all worked, and worked well with the characters and story. This was not a happy story, was in many ways about the passing of magic into the mundane. But it was a good story, one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, and in the end one that will probably stick with me for a time. That said, I'm giving it a 9.25/10.


"Out of all the novels by Gregory Maguire, this one is my favorite one. True Wicked was more popular, there was something about this novel that touched my imagination in a way that I cannot really explain. I can say that the novel itself is a mix of both fairy tale and historical events. Also, I can tell you that the tale takes place in Tuscany, Italy which in my opinion is a fine setting for such a book.

I have to say that giving Snow White a more exotic and foreign name of Bianca de Nevada was quite smart on Maguire's behalf. It made me truly believe that ""Snow White"" truly is the fairest maiden in the land and in all respects she is as it attains to this novel. The novel starts out with Bianca at seven years old with her father Don Vicente. They come into pocession of a mirror that was made by dwarves but was found by Bianca in a pond which was used to temper the mirror. An eighth dwarf remains with her asking for the mirror back.

The wicked queen is in the form of Cesare Borgia and his sister the lovely and vain Lucrezia - who are decadent children of a wicked pope. Lucrezia serves as the wicked queen and grows jealous of Bianca's beauty as she ages into grace. On an attempt by Lucrenza to kill Bianca through a woodsman, Bianca escapes and runs into the seven dwarfs - who are looking for the eight dwarf and the mirror Bianca found years ago.

Because of this new twist and plot, this novel was quite an entertaining read and probably the quickest read I had from Gregory Maguire. I was very impressed and loved how everything just went into place with all of his writing. The majestic setting of old Italy also added to the imagination as it gave the ""Snow White"" story more depth. Personally, I think this would make an excellent follow-up to Wicked to truly understand Gregory Maguire and I recommend it as a tryout to anyone and a guaranteed read for those who love Maguire's magical writing style before he published his later writings."