My first book of 2015 was This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, and I vividly remember finishing the book and immediately tossing it across the room in frustration. Just in case I forgot, Timehop decided to remind me.
I can’t say what in particular made me dislike the book, but I do know that I was disappointed that my new year of new reads kicked off with a dud. I was determined not to let that happen again this year.
At the start of January, I began reading Da Vinci’s Tiger by L. M. Elliott, December’s book from OwlCrate. I made it through the first 60-80 pages, and I’ve had to temporarily set the book aside. The story is somewhat slow and just hasn’t captured me yet, so I began to worry that I would have a repeat of last year. I’m sure Da Vinci’s Tiger is probably wonderful, and I just haven’t given it enough of a shot yet, but I’m not taking any chances. So, I returned it to the nightstand, and I went in search of a guaranteed good read.
I normally stick to reading and reviewing mostly Young Adult books, but occasionally, I may choose one of certain relevance or that Young Adult readers may enjoy – such as this time. It may just be personal bias, but I believe Neil Gaiman transcends most all age groups and genres. So, while The Sleeper and the Spindle may look like an ordinary picture book, just one look inside can tell you that it is much, much more.
“Learning how to be strong, to feel her own emotions and not another’s, had been hard; but once you learned the trick of it, you did not forget.”
As you might guess, Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. How could you simply not love him? That man could tell me what he ate for breakfast, and somehow the words that left his mouth would form an eloquent quote. In October, I got the chance to do something I never would have thought possible – I got to see Neil Gaiman speak (in West by God Virginia, no less!).
Can I put into words how incredible it was, seeing him speak? Of course not, but he was fabulous! He read one of his newest short stories, talked about his writing process and personal life with the new baby, and even hinted around at an upcoming project writing for Sherlock (Okay…so maybe he said, “writing for a six hour special show with the BBC…I didn’t say the name, did I? Okay. Good.” But we all know what that means.) Huzzah!
Neil didn’t do a signing, as it probably would have taken him twelve hours of nonstop autographs before he would be able to leave the building. BUT he did pre-sign a number of copies of five different books, for which if you were there early, you could select one ticket per person that would guarantee you a book. Luckily, my better half came along, so we each had a ticket. I selected Sleeper and the Spindle (I am a children’s librarian, after all! I feel obligated to pick picture books.), and he selected the new release of short stories, Trigger Warning.
The pair got kinda shuffled around while remodeling the house, but one afternoon, just after I’d put down Da Vinci’s Tiger, I rediscovered them both in all of their glory. It was perfect timing. I needed something I KNEW would be a good read, and I’d also been on a kick lately creating my ultimate list of must-have picture books on Amazon. That’s thanks to reading The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski, which just arrived at the library, immediately won my heart, and got me thinking about what picture books I treasure enough to want for my hypothetical future children (and myself).
In relation to that list, Sleeper and the Spindle wouldn’t be a good fit. Although it’s gorgeously stunning, the text is lengthier than the average picture book and on a higher reading level. Amazon recommends grade 7 and up. The summary from Goodreads says:
On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.
Things I Enjoyed:
As I’ve said many times before, there’s nothing I love more than a good fairytale. In Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman weaves together Sleeping Beauty and Snow White seamlessly (as well as a few subtle nods to other fantastic tales). As I mentioned in my Owlcrate vs. Uppercase review, Snow White is one of my absolute favorite fairytale characters. Not only does Neil do her justice, he makes me love her even more. She is portrayed as a strong, independent woman who would rather play the hero than a damsel in distress.
Also, I certainly can’t ignore Chris Riddell in all of this. His illustrations provide at least half the allure to this title. Intricately drawn in metallic ink, the illustrations have a magical quality that will pull you in closer to examine every fine detail.
The TWIST, though. While I won’t spoil it for you, it was definitely a new take on the stories, and one I didn’t see coming.
Things I Didn’t Enjoy:
This isn’t anything against the book itself, more against the reviews I’d seen previously. A lot of people seem to be labeling this a lesbian retelling. Spoiler Alert – It’s not. In the whole book, there is only one lady on lady kiss and a beautiful illustration depicting it, but that does NOT make it a lesbian retelling, so please stop calling it that. The kiss isn’t even really romantic. I adore the fact that this book is devoid of romance, whether it’s with a prince or a princess. It’s empowering for readers to see characters who are strong and don’t have to rely on true love to save them. Instead, they strap on their armor and set out to save the world themselves. Beautiful.
I’d go a step further and say that I like it better in a story when a woman just doesn’t need rescued. Period.
I’m going to say 4.5/5 on this one. The only thing that prevents me from giving it a perfect score is the fact that it’s an awkward in-between length of picture book and juvenile fiction, yet written on a more young adult level. It’s obvious from the writing that it is intended for an older audience, so I feel like if that’s the case, then the story could be longer and fleshed out a little more. It definitely let me with a craving for more.