In what Tor.com calls their "greatest [collaboration] to date," New York Times bestselling and Newbery and Carnegie Medal-winning author Neil Gaiman and Kate Greenaway-winning illustrator Chris Riddell have created a thrillingly reimagined fairy tale, "told in a way only Gaiman can" and featuring "stunning metallic artwork" (GeekInsider.com). The result is a beautiful and coveted edition of The Sleeper and the Spindle that the Guardian calls "a refreshing, much-needed twist on a classic story." In this captivating and darkly funny tale, Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell have twisted together the familiar and the new as well as the beautiful and the wicked to tell a brilliant version of Snow White's (sort of) and Sleeping Beauty's (almost) stories. This story was originally published (without illustrations) in Rags & Bones (Little, Brown, 2013). This is the first time it is being published as an illustrated, stand-alone edition, and the book is a beautiful work of art.
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As a long-time fan of Gaiman’s writing, I found this story to be just as delightful and sinister as most of his tales. Gaiman is never needlessly gruesome or shocking, but he tells his stories in honest language and earnest characters. Every word counts in Sleeper and the Spindle, and while this story might be dark, the message is not, as it’s about finding courage in the wake of many expectations.
From the expectations of what the Queen is meant to become after she wakes from her spell, to the sleeping Princesses in need of rescuing (but maybe not in the way you’d expect), each character is faced with choices. Throughout the story, Gaiman plays with the consequences of each choice - and whether these choices come to fruition or not - giving the entire book an air of dream-like wonder.
One of my favorite elements of the story was the Queen’s journey. Rarely do we read fairytales detailing what happens after the princess is rescued, but in Sleeper and the Spindle, we see that Snow White is now a queen and doing the rescuing. She isn’t sure she wants to get married. She isn’t sure if she can save the kingdom, but she’s sure that if she stays and gets married, her life will change forever. So she fetches her sword and armor and travels to save a princess asleep in her tower, and a kingdom from dark magic.
While Gaiman’s words deliver a story full of adventure, Chris Riddell’s illustrations bring Gaiman’s words together and add a depth to the story that appears effortless. Unlike the colorful illustrations that typically accompany fairytales, the artistry for Sleeper and the Spindle is black & white pen work with golden accents throughout. While Gaiman’s words feel barely restrained, Riddell’s illustrations take a bare-boned approach that is decadent without being overpowering. However, both the artist and the author have a sense of wildness about their work that serves this story well.
The book has a wonderful graphic novel feel to it, which makes this story a good choice for older readers, or even a read-aloud bedtime story for younger children. While the book deals with some dark themes, the language and art provides a lightness that takes the edge off the darkness.
When a sleeping curse spreads across the country, a young Queen, on the eve of her wedding, accompanies friendly dwarves in an effort to bring an end to the dreadful spell. Casting off her wedding clothes, the Queen takes her chain mail and sword and sets out on an adventure through mountains and frightening terrains towards the source of the curse. When she arrives, the Queen realises that the princess in need of rescuing is not quite what she seems. But the Queen’s true quest is more difficult than breaking a spell: she must decide what she will make of her own future.
The Sleeper and the Spindle is a sight to behold. When I first opened the novel, I spent a good ten minutes simply admiring the way the book was produced, as well as the captivating illustrations drawn by Chris Riddell. The illustrations were drawn in black and white, with gold leaf placed here and there for added effect, which brought the drawing together in the most beautiful way and worked perfectly beside the text.
The novel is only 69 pages long, with a majority of those pages taken up by wonderful creations of art. If you are looking for a quick and easy read, this is definitely one you should pick up. The Sleeper and the Spindle is a unique retelling of Sleeping Beauty mixed in with Snow White. Why is it so unique? Because it has that Neil Gaiman creepy but quirky stamp all over it. The novel is dark but hopeful, too. The story-line, much like his other works, is twisted and strange, but paired alongside the illustrations, the result is a whimsical and wonderful novel.
What I loved most about this book is that the Queen is the hero of the story, not the prince. In fact, the Queen leaves behind the prince at the beginning of the book in order to undertake this journey. The Queen is the best character of the novel by far. She is dissatisfied with the direction her life has taken, and wants nothing more than to leave it behind. Her adventure is partly a self-searching journey which added an extra element to the text.
I have to admit I was a little disappointed when I realised this novel was not a queer retelling of a fairytale. The Queen and the princess do share a kiss, but it is not because they are to become lovers. Based on the few other reviews I have read about this novel, many other readers felt the same way. While the lesbian representation would have been amazing, there is a very interesting twist at the conclusion of the novel which I was thoroughly impressed by and did not see coming. After the twist was revealed, I was then able to appreciate the reason why Gaiman did not follow the lesbian lovers path.
As the novel is so short, there is not a lot of time for the characters to become fully-fleshed out which slightly irked me. The reader knows next to nothing about the dwarves and their motivations, nor about the wicked old woman who guards the princess. I feel like these issues could have been repaired if the novel was only a few pages longer, but considering the sheer gorgeousness of the illustrations and the text, I can forgive Gaiman for the slightly under-developed characters.
Despite a few issues, the novel was truly wonderful to read. Gaiman’s prose is of the highest quality and, paired with Riddell’s captivating illustrations, this novel was impossible to put down. Find a copy of this novel as soon as you can and devour the epicness that is The Sleeper and the Spindle.