Pin is trapped in the story of Snow White, except there is no Snow White and she is enslaved as a seamstress by the despotic Godmother. Obsessed with escape, she does all that she can to break out of her ground hog's day storyline. She meets other repressed characters along the way and the terror of Godmother's reign over the castle is revealed in how she murders or abuses those that oppose her. Fear keeps people chained to the occupations Godmother has forced them to perform. When Pin plans and executes an escape with Shoe, a shoemaker in the castle, with the help of her magic thimble, she discovers that she cannot escape her story to an alternate world but must work within it to change it.
The Godmother erases peoples memories and turns them into puppets that serve her, but there are some that fight or resist the amnesia. Pin ends up being inserted into a new story after her failed escape where her name is Pen. The names in the fairy tale are a nice mirror to how names have been created in fairy tales over hundreds of years; that is, characters seldom had names of their own and usually they represented an occupation or social position or way they were clothed, such as Hunter, captain, princess, Little Red Riding Hood, maiden, king, nobleman, etc. Prineas does the same thing but also enhances the metafictional subplot about character, writing, storytelling, and the story's moral, particularly with Pin's name. Pin's personality is prickly and she rebels against authority from the onset. When her name changes to Pen in the second part, she is trying to rewrite her story and make her own choices in life versus the predestined one that Story has chosen for her. She wants free will and is going to fight the system (which is Story) to obtained it.
It is hard to create a villain that never speaks nor shows up in a tangible way in the storyline; yet, the author attempts to do just that. Story is silenced at the end and the protagonist, Pen, has changed the story. She's strong. She rescues boys. She wants to make her own choices who she marries, not a prince that has to protect her. In fairy tales, the storyteller has the power because he or she wants to influence social practices and must be able to tell effective stories if he or she wants those stories to become a part of a tradition where people will adopt or subvert the morals being espoused by society. Is the new storyteller, Pen? Has the power shifted from Story to her? Or is Story dormant? Or destroyed? I'm not sure.Or perhaps Pin who uses first person is the narrator or storyteller. Her voice alternates with Shoe who uses the more objective third person; thus, telling the reader that Pin is the storyteller and she has the power not Story. Perhaps it will be explored more in depth in a sequel. I wanted this message to come through stronger than it does. Perhaps it will be explored more in depth in a sequel.
Themes are layered in this story from Pen finding her identity to the characters having the freedom to control their own destiny. It is about power and the corruption of it and the strength of stories. Characters were forced to play parts in the story they didn't want to. I just finished reading a book about the despot Stalin and he did much of the same thing to Russians forcing them to play parts many did not want to. The subplot involving romance and friendship explores the theme of loyalty and courage. The fact that the characters have no control or authority reflects the condition of being a child and this will resonate with young readers as well. Pen is outspoken, bold and brassy and I liked her voice and strong character.
Another nod by the author toward fairy tales is Shoe being punished for making a fur instead of a glass slipper. According to Philip Pullman in "Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm," there is a rumor that when Charles Perrault published his fairy tale book with Cinderella he mistook the French word vair (fur) for verre (glass). In Jack Zipes translation of the Brothers Grimm's first edition of folk tales Cinderella had gold slippers. Time has settled on glass slippers it would seem, but it this was not always the case. The action scene with Shoe and Pin is a clever nod by the author toward these contradictions that I appreciated as a reader of fairy tales.
Fairy tales have changed over time. When the Brother's Grimm printed their first edition, they were terse, short and characterized by conventional stock figures that revealed little interior life in their characters. The Godmother is a stock character except at the end where it is implied she had no choice. This seemed contradictory or maybe the author was just showing the humane side of Shoe who can forgive even tyrants. The original Grimm fairy tales showed class struggles and while most women accepted their role in a traditional patriarchal society there were some that were not satisfied with their life. One has sisters that didn't want to spin flax all day and they outwit their father, the king, to get out of the task. Another has a queen who has more wisdom than the king and she continually outwits him while respecting and maintaining his patriarchal status; thus, not threatening the social norm. Here Prineas explores the female being forced unwillingly into a role she does not want. The Grimm fairy tales consistently have underdogs that prevail in difficult circumstances and Prineas uses the same archetype in her work. While the target audience for this book is young adult, younger readers reading at a high level can tackle it and enjoy its complexities.