“You may think you know this story. There’s a young queen, about to be married. There are some good, brave, hardy dwarfs; a castle, shrouded in thorns; and a princess, cursed by a witch, so rumour has it, to sleep forever.
But no one is waiting for a noble prince to appear on his trusty steed here. This fairy tale is spun with a thread of dark magic, which twists and turns and glints and shines. A queen might just prove herself a hero, if a princess needs rescuing…”
I mean, how could I resist?! This is a brilliant story, and anyone with kids should get a copy and read it with them immediately. What a relief to have a queen who doesn’t want to get married. A story where all of the main characters are women with power and initiative. Where women don’t need men to rescue them. Where people have skulls on their duvet covers. This book is a breath of fresh air.
This is also a very visually arresting book. The illustrations are beautifully gothic: black and white with gold highlights and just deliciously detailed. And whatever the cover is made of, it just feels luxurious.
The story begins with a queen contemplating her impending marriage with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Out of the blue, three dwarfs arrive to warn her that the neighbouring kingdom is beset by a sleep-plague emanating from a castle in which a princess sleeps an enchanted sleep next to a blood-stained spindle. So, strapping on her sword and bidding her fiance the chirpiest of farewells, our queen sets off to rescue the princess and her kingdom.
She takes with her the three trusty dwarfs and between them they journey across a country where only the spiders don’t sleep, through cities where they are chased by sleepwalkers until finally they reach the wall of thorns surrounding the castle. Neil Gaiman’s magical writing draws us deeper and deeper into this story which twists and turns and in which the drama only really begins when the sleeping beauty is kissed. He effortlessly blends the traditional with the modern so that you are never sure what is going to happen next.
If I had one criticism of the book, it would be that despite being very gung-ho and kick-ass, the main characters still have the figures of Disney princesses, but I suppose we can’t have everything. If your little girl liked Frozen then this is the next logical step. And if she didn’t, then she might still enjoy this more grown-up tale. And if you have little boys, this is a tale of magic and adventure they can get wrapped up in. And if you are a grown-up you will still enjoy it.
It was an imaginative and refreshing take on the fairy tale format, and I would love to read more like it. Do you know of any similar reads?
The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman, Bloomsbury, London, 2014