Book Review #17: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Monday, 5 January 2015
Product details:
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Hardback
Length: 68 pages
Published: 2014
Rating: ☆☆☆
Source: Present for Christmas
A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish.

On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.

So I have been waiting to read and review this book since I first heard about it being released. Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell are my number one favourite duo when it comes to books. Neil Gaiman for his fantastic and beautiful way of telling stories and Chris Riddell for his unbelievable artwork that is recognisable through most of my childhood favourites. Everyone remember Fergus Crane? That was my favourite as a child.

So what did I think of the Sleeper and the Spindle?

Plot - In terms of plot, I thought was reasonably solid in terms of structure and pace. The structure is set out in the style of a fairy tale which considering this book pitched as a modern fairy tale, this was extremely accurate and well done by Gaiman. Obviously as well there was that slight creepy twist that Gaiman's work is known for, it definitely reminds me more of the Brothers Grimm types of fairy tales than Hans Christian Anderson. Don't you think? In terms of pacing I thought that this book's pace was reasonable. Whilst reading it, it definitely kept me intrigued and willed me to read on, but I just felt that at times it kind of jumped between scenes a little too quickly for my liking. I think I would have liked a bit more depth in reality, but considering this book is only 68 pages I wasn't expecting a lengthy developed plot line. Going into this book I had heard a lot of hype about it being a Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty replacing the prince kind of idea. Boy was I blown away by how wrong I was in assumption. The story tells of a queen (quite clearly Snow White) who is preparing for her wedding day when three dwarves come and tell her about a sleeping curse that is slowly sweeping the land. She sets off in search of the sleeping princess to wake her, defeat the wicked old witch guarding her and break the spell. But things don’t quite work out the way she expects… Can we just talk about how the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ character turns out to be the witch? That was definitely not something I was expecting in the slightest and it definitely worked in Gaiman's favour. How creepy was the whole sucking away the princesses life-force and that of the towns people as they slept, all to keep herself young and beautiful? Definitely seeing a bit of a Mother Gothel character in there don’t you think? Flower gleam and glow, let your power shine....

Characters - So lets talk about the characters briefly, because as this is aimed as a kind of fairy tale-esque story there wasn’t a huge amount of development because of how short the novel was. We can quite clearly tell that the queen character is represented to be Snow White but if not knowing about who she was previously, then her tale slowly begins to unravel as the story progresses, and I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the story. I thought it was a nice way to explain who she was without dumping all of the information onto us as readers right at the beginning of the novel. I've found in the past that with some novels, if we are given a large quantity of detail just as the novel starts I find it really difficult to retain it all. However, gradually dropping hints of detail as the story progresses so that everything becomes clear was a fantastic was to get around this feature and made it all the more enjoyable for me. As the novel was also focused on the rescue of the princess it was nice to see the knowledge imparted from the other characters. As Sleeping Beauty's character is rightfully asleep throughout the majority of the story, it is practically impossible to gain any narration/backstory from her, but taking insights based off of other character's knowledge really made me appreciate her development more. It's weird to explain. It's also nice to see the development of the character's awareness. In fairy tales we're often just told of the one story at a time and that is always that. This makes a change because it allows the relationships of the character's to mingle. They were aware of the other character's existence and they mentioned that they lived in another kingdom! Beautiful! Often with fairy tales/disney movies we assume that all of these well known stories take place in totally different worlds, but it's impressive to see how they interweave. What I believe I appreciated most with the characters and their development was the impact of trust they have on the reader. It allows us to create judgements based on the characters. Automatically as intended, your allegiance sides with good and the evil is judged to be the witch. Obviously the huge surprise really took it's impact and surprised me and I'm appreciative of it because it's not something we tend to see often in stories, especially one's aimed for children. We often identify the baddie earlier on and it is how we must defeat them as the story progresses, but this was clearly flipped on it's head and worked to it's advantage. It’s also nice to see that Gaiman is making direct links between the fairy tales and tends to answer the question that is on most peoples lips, ‘what happens after the happily ever after?

Illustrations - I have to be brutally honest here, the illustrations are really what drew me into the book. Chris Riddell’s accompanying artwork to Gaiman's story were beautiful and frankly that little bit astonishing. Riddell’s form is easily recognisable as being pretty much similar in everything he illustrates, but he always adds that little bit of creepy onto everything. Paired with Gaiman? He’s the master of creepy.  I really admire the colour scheme used throughout this novel. Riddell often works with black and white images in his stories (besides the covers of course), but we got to see a glimpse of colour,  but even if it was just a singular colour, the shimmering gold was astonishing. In terms of the features of Riddell's illustrations, everything is drawn with such attention to detail. I haven't quite found an illustrator yet who adds just as much detail into the scenery and his character's as Riddell does. Even the backgrounds which I often don't spend a lot of time admiring had me gazing. There are two particular images in this book which really identify with this really well. One of them is where the Queen and her party have to travel through the kingdom as all of the sleeping people are starting to move. On that double page spread there has to be at least 50 different faces, possibly even 100 and each one of them has their own individual characteristics which makes each of them unique and distinguishable. It's simply amazing that no two characters look similar, except that of a pair of twins. The other illustration is a smaller one where the Queen travels through a forest of thorns. The page is literally covered in thorns but you can make out each single one and I appreciated that immensely as it must have taken hours to draw. 
So what do I give The Sleeper and the Spindle as an overall rating? I give it 4 out of 5 stars. Although I haven't highlighted any major faults in the story I just would have liked to see a little bit more to it. Perhaps less jumping around and a bit more explanation on the people waking up. I know they were drawn to the castle by the power of the sleeping witch but still. It kind of made it a bit pointless throughout the story, I would have liked to see a bit more protection of the castle besides the thorns and sleeping townspeople. Otherwise this is a beautiful book that is suitable for both children and adults. A lovely little bedtime story with that added creepy twist. 

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