Bloomsbury Publishing, RRP $19.99
Once upon a time there was a princess who was cursed by a witch, or was it a bad fairy? Whatever she was, she was pretty pissed not to be invited to the princess’s birthing ceremony. And so when the princess turned eighteen she pricked her finger on a spindle and fell asleep forever and the curse was fulfilled.
About one hundred years later, a queen is preparing for her wedding or, as she sees it, the end of her life. The queen dares to think that becoming a royal breeding machine and most likely dying in childbirth isn’t really something she wants in her life right now. Quelle surprise. Luckily the queen finds out about a sleeping plague that seems to be spreading through the queendom. How to stop it? Find the sleeping princess at the centre of it and wake her up of course. So this sweet arse queen tells her fiancé – some prince she deigned to marry – to chill out until she returns and goes off to wake the princess and save her people.
But is everything as it seems in the mysterious castle full of sleeping beings? Well, it’s Neil Gaiman, so probably not.
The Sleeper And The Spindle, in case you didn’t quite glean from the description above, is a retelling of the tale of Sleeping Beauty or Briar Rose told with Neil Gaiman’s brand of dark humour. Chris Riddell’s black and white illustrations, highlighted with gold, are spectacular and and expressive giving Gaiman’s words the fantastical and creepy representation they deserve.
Though it would be nice to be able to just see this as a normal state of affairs, the queen’s agency and ability to make her own choices should probably be mentioned as special. This isn’t the first fairy tale retelling to put a feminist spin on the story, nor hopefully will it be the last. It would, however, be nice to see some well balanced tales. Here we have the usual evil step-mother and evil vain (female) fairy tropes with what is essentially a gender swapped rescuer. But at least an attempt has been made and the story itself is a fun twist on a well known tale.
The book itself is a pretty little thing and a book that is a work of art is a doubly wondrous thing.