Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Long Awaited Reads Month - Spindle's End

                                            


 January is Ana's and Iris' Long Awaited Reads Month.  I was perusing my shelves, wondering how far back some books had been on it waiting to read, when this book fell into my hands:  Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley. 

I am a huge fan of Robin McKinley, and I'm not sure why I hadn't read Spindle's End before.  I know I had tried at least twice, but the beginning is a little dry, with not a lot of action until chapter 2, when we meet Katriona, a girl of 15 who is picked from her village to represent it at the christening of the long-awaited princess who had finally been born to the king and queen.  You know how the story begins: king and queen long for a baby, it's finally born after many years, and at the christening day, fairies are invited, and one is left out, Pernicia,  and she ruins the party by putting a curse on the baby that on her 21st birthday, the princess will touch a spindle and fall into a poisoned sleep from which none can wake her. In this story, the evil fairy then changes it to: it could happen at any time up to her 21st birthday.   And from there, the novel takes off on it's own wonderful course.

    Spindle's End is the retelling of Sleeping Beauty, thus the name of the novel.  It is one of the best retellings of this particular fairy tale I have read, and indeed, I think how the story is reworked so that the princess - called Rosie, nickname of  the last of the 19 names she is given (they had been waiting a long time to have a baby), Briar Rose - Rosie herself plays a starring role in this novel.  She is hidden away by Katriona, far from the palace and  the seeking eyes of  the wicked fairy .  So Rosie grows up far away from anywhere, really, loved by two fairies, one of whom , Katriona, accidentally gives her small fairy talent to Rosie when she first sees her, because she wants to give her something (she is a tiny 3 month old princess after all) and because she wants to save her from the curse. The whole kingdom wants to.  And for 20 years, Rosie is raised in relative safety.  And then the year of the 21st birthday arrives.....

I love how the fairies are worked into this story: humans share the world with fairies, in this unnamed land, and the fairies are used to corral magic and try to keep it under control, because magic exists in this world.  Fairies look like humans, so they are mostly identified by what happens around them, what they cause to happen, or what they can do. 

Part of the spell this novel had me under is that Rosie grows up being able to talk to animals.  It was at this point in reading the novel that I discovered  - I remembered- that I  had loved this part of fairy tales when I read them.  I absolutely love animals that help characters, especially talking animals.  That to me was pure magic, and I love that in Spindle's End this is worked in to the story in such a beautiful way.  Rosie is not your archetypal princess, she is clumsy, large, not beautiful - but she is kind, and funny, and loves animals fiercely. 

This was a funny magical fairy tale.  It's been a long time since I read something that was so sweet, and well-written, and true to the spirit of fairy tales. 

What I love most though, is that Rosie mostly saves herself.  I think  it says a lot for today, and our envisioning of female power, that the prince doesn't rescue Rosie.  She decides to fight for the kingdom, for her people, for all she loves, to free them from the evil fairy.  She doesn't fall into a slumber that only one kiss will awaken her, she doesn't lie in state in the castle waiting for a prince to hack his way through to her.  She works with the land, the way a real princess (and King) do, close to it in the way that living in nature (they are far from any large city, or even small town) can give to people. That's what I mean by a marvelous true story.  Some of the questions that have bothered me for years about Sleeping Beauty are: Should Briar Rose do something, anything, to stop her curse?  Why is she so passive - hasn't she heard for all those years what the evil fairy wished on her?  Shouldn't she flee at the sight of a spindle?  Why is she so passive? Shouldn't she seek some way to avoid her fate, rather than let her father just banish spindles, as if that could stop an evil fairy?  This retelling answers those questions I long held in a deeply satisfying way.

 This one is rich in myth, and legend, and talking animals, good and evil, and a princess who is helped by those she is kind to.  It's filled with lots of love too, brimming over with love and romance.  At it's core, it's about being true to yourself.  There are two big heroines in this book - Katriona, who rescues the princess and then helps to raise her, and Rosie, the princess. I love that they are the center of this story of Sleeping Beauty.  They take action, they are the story.  This is a wonderful re-imagining.

So that was my first book for long awaited reads month.   I have had it on my shelves for several years now. Thank you, Ana and Iris, for creating this challenge! 

15 comments:

Cath said...

I like Robin McKinley too. Her Sunshine is one my favourite vampire yarns and in 2011 I read her 'Beauty' and, although I'm not a great one for retold fairy stories, I did like that. Glad you enjoyed this one so much.

Susan said...

Cath: I think Sunshine is one of the best vampire novels too! I may have read Beauty long ago, though if I did, I don't remember it. I have it and Rose Daughter (another retelling she did later) on my shelves waiting to be read. I'm glad you enjoy her too.

So you don't like retold fairy tales much? That's interesting, though I have to admit that most of the people I know who do read the new versions are bloggers :-)

Cath said...

I don't, no. But I really can't fathom why I don't care for them. Is it possibly because I already know the story and therefore the element of surprise is just not there for me? I think that may be most of it, tbh. I liked Beauty because Beauty and the Beast is a story I don't tire of hearing. I also didn't mind Sheri Tepper's Beauty, which is based on Sleeping Beauty and brought the story into the 20th. century.

I *adored* fairy stories as a child, lived on Grimm's fairy tales and Hans Christian Anderson. Oh, and Aesop's Fables. LOL.

Janet said...

I am a huge Robin Mckinley fan too. Beauty if my favorite. A great post.

Gavin said...

McKinley is also a favorite of mine. Have you read the story collections she wrote with her husband, Fire and Water? They are wonderful.

Literary Feline said...

Robin McKinley has been on my list of authors to try forever. This does sound good--and like you--I appreciate it when female characters are able to save themselves. I think that's why I like the movie Ever After so much. :-) Great review!

Debi said...

I have yet to read anything by McKinley. Not sure why--I guess the whole "too many books..." thing. I do own a couple of her books, but now I think I'd really like start with this one! *sigh* You have been a bit hard on my bookshelves lately, dear Susan...

Kailana said...

Spindle's End was really good! I am glad you got around to reading it!

Ana @ things mean a lot said...

You're welcome, and I'm glad your pick was such a hit! I've really enjoyed eveything I've read by McKinley so far and need to make time for more of her stuff.

Bybee said...

This sounds really interesting! When I saw the title, I thought it had to be a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale.

Susan said...

Cath: I have Sheri Tepper's Beauty also, possibly because of you! lol I haven't read it yet. I like retold fairy tales, though I don't often read the same fairy tale redone close together.

I wonder if you don't like many retold ones because you absorbed so much of the original ones? Which are short and to the point, and the real fairy tales, for me. There is nothing like them, though I do enjoy building on them and rewriting them and using them in fiction (love using them!), the originals have so much power. As do Angela Carter's.

Janet: Lovely! I'm so thrilled you love Beauty that much. I'm pretty sure I will be rereading this one. I've had a week now to let it sit in my mind, and I do love it. It really is a wonderful retelling. IU own Beauty, and Rose Daughter, so one day soon I hope to get to them. Have you read Spindle's End yet?

Gavin: No, I haven't read Fire and Water yet. It's going right on my to-get list for April, when I can get books again! I know that she and Peter were doing some, and I saw one, but was waiting for it to come out in paperback and it never did. THere are three now in the series, aren't there? Thanks so much for the recommendation, too.

Literary Feline: I like Ever After also! So I think you might like Spindle's End then. If you don't read this one first, then do read Sunshine - one of the best vampire novels ever done, for me. I hope you try her soon!

Debi: I have several by her I haven't read yet, like The Blue Sword, and all the dragon books, which I keep picking up and then putting down again. You might try reading Sunshine too, if you're in the mood for something good and a little scary and full of vampires. just saying....lol :-)

Kailana: Yaay! I'm delighted you read it and loved it too! I love how she makes the magic possible and realistic.

Ana: have you read this one yet? I know you had read one of hers recently and thought it was this one, but it wasn't. She is such a good fantasy writer, I'm glad you enjoy her work too. We have to make a list for Debi :-D you know how she has a challenge just from your suggestions! lol

Bybee: and aren't you afraid of the evil queen in the Disney movie? The evil fairy is still evil in Spindle's End, but how the princess overcomes her made me tear up. The princess, and lots of help, so fairy-tale real.....I think you could read it, it might erase memories of the Disney movie :-)

Alisa Selene said...

Robin Mckinley is one of my all time favorite authors and I love this book!

Susan said...

Alisa Seline: Thank you so much for your comment! Have you read Sunshine by McKinley, too? that has to be my favourite so far. Though Spindle's End is a close second. I read Beauty many years ago, and want to reread it soon again. Thank you for sharing that you love this book also :-)

Kathleen said...

This one sounds like a keeper. I always say I am going to read more fairy tales and I never do. There's just not enough reading hours in each day to get to all of the good stuff I want to get to!

Susan said...

Kathleen: I feel the same way, there are so many books to read and so few hours in which to read...I think my struggle is to slow my life down enough to make more time for reading. This was a really fun fairy tale retelling, so I hope you do get to it one day :-)