Book Review: The Sleeper & the Spindle
The Sleeper and the Spindle is a new novelette by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Chris Riddell. I imported it from the UK because I couldn’t wait for it to be available here in the US. (I also got the UK edition of Shades of Milk and Honey because it has two extra chapters. I’m not obsessed. Hush.)
First off, let me just say that this is a gorgeous book. The picture to the left doesn’t even really do it justice. The picture of the sleeper is printed on the actual book cover, then there is a velum dust jacket that has the title and the roses. The vines are all detailed in gold. I can’t find a good picture of the actual cover, and my cell phone can’t do it justice either, so I’ll leave it for you to search.
As with so many things Gaiman has done, this book weaves fairy tales together. The two main stories are Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, but there are hints of Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, and others I’m sure I’m not catching.
Three dwarves set out on a quest to get the best silks for their queen. But when they reach the neighboring kingdom they are met with stories of a plague, a sickness, a curse, a spell. People are falling asleep. Everyone knows that there is a princess asleep in the castle. She’s been there for 70 years, but everything outside the castle full of roses, on this side of the haunted forest had been fine. Until recent. The sleeping curse is spreading west at two or three miles a day.
The dwarves rush back to their kingdom to tell the Queen. She can do math and determines that the curse will reach her kingdom in a matter of weeks. So, she puts off her wedding, kisses her prince, and rides to the east. Dwarves are magical and only sleep once or twice a year, so they should be able to withstand the curse. And the Queen has already overcome one enchanted sleep, so she should be fine too.
This story leaves the Princes behind. In fact, Snow White’s prince is patted on his “pretty face” and never thought of again. This book breaks conventions, while still being very much a classic fairy tale. It was noticed by several media outlets for this picture:
That’s Snow White waking up Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. It ties nicely into this year’s other non-traditional Sleeping Beauty kiss (Spolier) in Maleficent. Now, I will say that the picture is slightly misleading. This could be considered a SPOILER, so I’m going to ramble on for a bit in case you don’t want to see SPOILERS to give you time to click away from this page.
There is not a happy, lesbian romance between Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. I just want to get that out there. So if you’re really excited about that or deeply offended by it, either way, bring it back in, because that’s not the direction this story goes. The kiss is more or less out of pragmatism. The Queen is the most logical person in the party (consisting of herself and three dwarves) to break the spell.
Ok, now that that’s out of the way. I liked this story. I liked it very much. This is very much the story of the women involved. The dwarves are there, but they’re support. The Prince is barely a footnote. It’s beautifully illustrated and beautifully written. I can’t recommend it enough if you like fairy tales. The Queen (she’s never actually called Snow White in the book) takes agency. She is the Queen. She must go face this threat to her kingdom, but she also uses the quest as a way to reset her life, which is spinning slightly out of control.
Another warning that is really more like a reminder. Neil Gaiman wrote this. You know, that guy who writes the things. Don’t look for a standard fairy tale ending from this book. It’s a satisfying ending. It’s a meaningful ending. It’s a beautiful ending. But it’s not a promise of “Happily Ever After.”
I can’t say enough about Chris Riddell’s illustrations. He has a very definite style, which is very much in evidence here. The illustrations are all elaborate black and white drawings with gold embellishment. They’re just breathtaking. There are tiny details in all of the pictures that make you want to just sit and stare at a page for ages. One of my personal favorite pictures is that of the Queen in bed. She has gold skulls all over her coverlet. That just seems so perfect for Snow White. Sleep is a short reprieve from death for both these women. The skull motif carries on with the Queen’s armor. They aren’t leering skulls or demon skulls. They’re just small reminders. It’s just lovely.
Also, I now really want to cosplay Snow White from this book.