Short Story Review | ‘The Time Invariance of Snow’ by E. Lily Yu

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You can read this story for free at Tor.com.

Illustration by Audrey Benjaminsen

The Devil made a mirror. A physicist broke it and shards fell through reality and changed everything forever.

There’s an interesting mixing of the allusions in this story. There’s the opening image of the Devil but it quickly becomes more a retelling of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. But it goes even further when information about physics becomes part of the narrative. And yet there is an ever present feeling of a timelessness to the tale even when specific references to contemporary culture are made. It manages to fit the narrative style of fairytales without completely adopting the medium.

I find it an interesting image to have something as abstract as “evil” be represented by pieces of glass. Because not only it is something the can be beautiful and enchanting from a distance, but it can seriously hurt you if you get too close.

The idea of a shard of it being stuck in one’s eye is fascinating too, because the glass distorts the way one looks at the world. It reminds me off hallways that have parallel mirrors in them–the infinite hallways that are created therein. There was such a hallway at the daycare when I was little and I would have to walk past it to use the restroom. I was so terrified of those mirrors and the strange world I imagined within them that I was convinced if I stared into it too long something would crawl out. Needless to say I used to run past the hallway with my eyes on my feet whenever I had to go near it.

There is something unsettling about mirrors in general so the thought of having a shard of one stuck in my eye made me squirm in my seat.

I’m not sure how many of my readers have read The Snow Queen but if you have–like myself–there are some interesting changes made by Yu that take the story from a fairytale atmosphere to a place that feels more modern and more critical. There are multiple lines in this story that made me stop and read it again because there was so much straight-forward power in saying plainly what has gone wrong in the world. 

An indifferent cartographer divided other people’s countries into everlasting wars.

It deals primarily with how people treat each other. I think we can all agree that humans haven’t been very good at this no matter what part of history or present day you point to. The most obvious one is the relationship between K and G that gets revisited multiple times throughout the story. The reader is introduced to their relationship at a moment of turmoil–the ending of a relationship–in which many parts of interaction that can become convoluted is more blatantly stated by these characters which have a power within them. 

Rating: 3.5/5

There have been many retellings of fairytales over the years and it’s always the ones that are barely recognizable as the original that I find most fascinating. Throw in some references to physics and I’m definitely going to be in for the ride. The Snow Queen isn’t as common a fairytale as some of the others but I think that’s part of the charm in this retelling–what is there is say about Cinderella that hasn’t been said in some way before? But to choose a story that doesn’t immediately come to mind when people think about fairytales allows a certain amount of freedom–perhaps even novelty.

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