Those who know me, know that I love a fairytale retelling. There is something about taking a well-known classic and turning on its head until it is a fresh, new story for the reader. Spindle’s End by Robert McKinley does exactly that for me. It is an unusual take on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale. It starts off as we would expect: a child is born, given gifts of beauty and grace, is cursed by a malevolent witch, then sent off to live with fairies. After that, the story veers off of the traditional tale and takes on a life of its own.
The principal characters are lovable and relatable. Rosie, sleeping beauty herself, is at odds with who she is and who she is meant to be. She hates her gifts, her bright white teeth that almost glow in the dark and her bouncy golden curls that make people always comment on her beauty, rather than her intelligence and bravery. The friendship between her and Peony, the graceful young woman that is everything Rosie is not, is perfect. They compliment each other in every way, and it is a friendship that has stayed in my heart since I first read it almost 15 years ago.
I also love the world McKinley creates. A world where magic is so thick and intrusive it clogs up the kettle and, if you do not descale it, you risk pouring snakes from the spout as opposed to water. A world where magic and fairies hate cold iron (it makes them absent minded) and where all men, except blacksmiths, are expected to be clean shaven and shave outdoors to prove that they are not fairies (only fairies shave indoors as they use copper blades rather than iron ones). It is all these little imaginative details that really bring the story to life for me.
The only warning I would give is that the fairy-tale style narration can be difficult for some people to get into; it is largely descriptive with minimal dialogue. I personally love the writer’s voice, but for those that enjoy snappy, dialogue heavy books it might be a struggle.
Spindle’s End is my Book of the Month for January – everyone who is subscribed to my newsletter by the 31st of January will be in with the chance of winning a free copy of it in eBook format.
As part of my origin of fairy tales series, I have explored the origin of the sleeping beauty myth – read my post here.