Disclaimer: I did not realize until I was well into Spindle (Kingdom of Sleep) by E.K. Johnston that A Thousand Nights (also by E.K. Johnston) was a companion novel which takes place prior to this one. That being said, I do not think that having not read A Thousand Nights detracted from how much I enjoyed Spindle. Spindle is perhaps the most enjoyable retelling I have read from the genre in a long time.
The world is made safe by a woman…but it is a very big world. It has been generations since the Storyteller Queen drove the demon out of her husband and saved her country from fire and blood. Her family has prospered beyond the borders of their village, and two new kingdoms have sprouted on either side of the mountains where the demons are kept prisoner by bright iron, and by the creatures the Storyteller Queen made to keep them contained. But the prison is crumbling. Through years of careful manipulation, a demon has regained her power. She has made one kingdom strong and brought the other to its knees, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When a princess is born, the demon is ready with the final blow: a curse that will cost the princess her very soul, or force her to destroy her own people to save her life. The threads of magic are tightly spun, binding princess and exiled spinners into a desperate plot to break the curse before the demon can become a queen of men. But the web of power is dangerously tangled–and they may not see the true pattern until it is unspooled. (Chapters.Indigo.ca)
Spindle is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a grand adventure, a curse, and even a touch of love, both romantic and familial. Spindle takes place more than 1000 years after the conclusion of the events in A Thousand Nights, making it more of a companion novel than a sequel. That being said, Yashaa, the Little Rose, and most of the main characters are implied to be the direct descendants of the Storyteller Queen and her people. The threads of Sleeping Beauty are expertly intertwined into Johnston’s new tale, creating a rich story that is both a retelling and a story unto itself.
Spindle is written with a masterful hand – in this regard, it is perhaps Johnston herself who should be hailed as the Storyteller Queen. While Spindle is a retelling, it is not a handfisted fairytale retelling, as many retellings of late. Instead, Spindle takes the most integral elements of Sleeping Beauty, and mixes them with a rich culture, a determined family, and a host of unforgettable characters and villains, to create somethings truly unique.
Johnston creates not only a rich story, but also rich characters who bring the story to life – one would not be complete without the other. Yashaa, the Little Rose, Arwa, Tariq and Saoud were each individuals, and yet members of a family, which serves to love, care for and protect one another. And them, Johnston’s fabulous prose brings the characters to life in a believable and heartwarming way.
- Yashaa is an endearing and charmingly innocent protagonist for this story. He was always concerned with what was best for not only himself, but also for their group as a whole. Yashaa, however, despite growing up in what is implied to be poverty in a tent-village of refugees, remains woefully ignorant. His ignorance is at time utterly improbable, especially when his peers, who grew up in near identical circumstances, are aware of such things. While his innocence and caring nature can be charming, they slowly become frustrating.
- The Little Rose is equally innocent and charming, though much of her early mannerisms are quite off-putting. However, unlike Yashaa, this is to be expected of the Little Rose, as she has been raised in seclusion and has had her knowledge willfully repressed, to protect her from the demon’s curse. The Little Rose charms the reader through her kindness, her innocent, her unending sacrifice and her love for her friends, leading her to a final, absolute decision.
- Arwa is the youngest of the troup, but she certainly does not slow them down.
- Tariq is Arwa’s elder, raised alongside Arwa, Yashaa and Saoud. Orphaned, much like Arwa, he has faced many hardships. He is steadfast in the face of adversity, and unrelenting in their quest to break the curse on his home country.
- Saoud is the only member of the group who is a refugee, forced from his country by a curse. Instead, he and his father serve the refugees as guards; so when the rest of the kids, and his best friends, run off on a wayward adventure, he is, of course, by their side. Saoud is the voice of reason and the leader of the group, by virtue of his superior knowledge and age. It is to him that Arwa, Tariq, the Little Rose and Yashaa look for leadership, and it is he who bears the brunt of the responsibility throughout this tale.
- The Demon is shockingly evil and merciless, and in creating such a devilish character, Johnston creates a truly fearsome and abhorrent enemy for her protagonists. Perhaps the most repulsive moment was the Demon’s thoughts regarding its plans for the Little Rose’s marriage; or perhaps, the plethora of destructive and murderous actions it undertakes in its quest to capture the Little Rose.
As I said above, E.K. Johnston is the Storyteller Queen. This story is an intricate retelling that weaves not only the tale of Sleeping Beauty (upon which it is focused), but also the lore of A Thousand Nights, weaving the two together in a memorable and enjoyable fashion. The lore of A Thousand Nights is the basis from which the tale of Sleeping Beauty emerges to form the story of Spindle. Johnston weaves the two, along with her unconventional characters (the only character who is perhaps true to the original telling is the Little Rose herself). The curse itself is more complex in nature than the basic understanding of the Sleeping Beauty curse, and its effects are slightly different. Yashaa, Arwa, Tariq and Saoud navigate the complexities of the curse blind for much of the beginning of the book, feeling its effects but not understanding its nature. The Little Rose cannot help them, as like them, she has no notion of how to break the curse, and thus their adventure is spurred on as they seek out a way to free their people from their horrible oppression. As they venture, Johnston interweaves action, romance and adventure seamlessly, meeting the needs of almost any reader.
Overall, Spindle was a excellent retelling that stands out within the growing retelling genre for its unique qualities and adept storytelling. Johnston puts a new spin on an old classic, creating new characters and a spinning plot which captivates and engages the reader (4/5).