I live in the upper Midwest, so I am prepared for some pretty gnarly winter weather. We had all thought spring had sprung when in mid-April we got hit with the second worst snowstorm in our state’s history. I didn’t leave the house for three days except to dig out our dryer vent to keep us from accidently asphyxiating.
So what’s a Bitch to do when stranded at home? Make sure you’re stocked up on the essentials (pet food, coffee, bacon, Milano cookies) and charge your Kindle. Despite the fact that my TBR will last five years if I never buy another book, I decided a blizzard was a good reason to treat myself and I downloaded Spindle Fire and Winter Glass by Lexa Hillyer. This YA retelling of Sleeping Beauty had been hanging out on my Want to Read shelf, and I’m so glad I splurged and bought it. It’s an adventure-packed read with strong romantic subplots, but the most important, intimate and powerful relationship in this book was between two best friends and sisters. I loved that.
Beauty in this story is Princess Aurora of the kingdom of Deluce. Her parents are both dead, and her only family is her half-sister Isabelle (the illegitimate daughter of the late king). In this world humans and faeries live alongside each other in a tenuous peace. Many fear that Queen Malfleur and her army of Vultures will attack the humans. That’s why Aurora is betrothed to Prince Phillip of Aubin, a country with more military strength. On his way to Deluce to meet his bride, Phillip and his brother are ambushed and killed, and everyone assumes it’s Malfleur’s doing.
Aurora and Isabelle learn this by spying on a council meeting, where Aurora’s marriage to the remaining Aubin prince is hastily being planned. They also learn that once Aurora is married, Isabelle will be sent to a convent. Aurora and Isabelle are best friends, and have helped each other survive emotionally in a world where Aurora is a political pawn and Isabelle is a bastard child no one wanted. Panicked at the thought of a life in a convent, Isabelle runs away. Aurora chases after her, finds that cottage in the woods with the spinning wheel, and you know what happens next.
She makes some bitchin’ yarn.
Despite the fact that Spindle Fire is retelling Sleeping Beauty in a feminist and more empowering light, it doesn’t shy away from the more alarming misogyny that infuses the fairytale to begin with. The story of Aurora’s parents bargaining with Malfleur is present, as is the curse that states Aurora is destined to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a deep sleep that can only be ended by true love’s kiss.
In this world, people pay a tithe to the more powerful fae in exchange for something else. When Aurora is born, the fae attend the King and Queen in order to offer their “gifts” to Aurora, including the faerie Claudine.
When it was Claudine’s turn to bless the child, he watched as she approached the cradle, offering the quietly mewling baby a sweetness of temper and beauty of face, in exchange for the child’s voice.
He watched as Queen Amelie nodded at King Henri, who stepped forward and announced: “Very well. A princess of sweetness and beauty should have little need of a voice. In fact, more daughters ought to make such an exchange, I’m sure.”
Gosh, I’m so sad this dude is dead.
Another faerie gives Aurora grace and elegance in exchange for her sense of touch. Then Malfleur shows up, and her tithe is youth (which also implies fertility). Since Aurora’s value is found on the marriage market, the King refuses and Malfleur curses her to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die.
Another faerie offers to amend the curse to a sleep like death in exchange for the King’s daughter’s sight. The Queen tricks the faerie, concerned Aurora has already given up too much, and gives the faerie Isabelle’s sight instead.
So in this adventure, we have Isabelle, who is blind, and Aurora, who cannot talk or experience touch. Since Aurora has no voice, she communicates with Isabelle by tapping into her sister’s palm; a language they’ve invented. Both manage just fine, and neither one is slowed down or hampered in any way by her tithe.
When Aurora falls into her sleep, a sleeping sickness spreads through the kingdom. Isabelle, having run away, escapes it. In order to save her sister, Isabelle travels to Aubin to find the last remaining prince, William, who she believes will be the one to kiss Aurora and break her curse. Their journey back to Aurora is dangerous, in part due to Malfleur’s Vultures (think flying monkeys on steroids), and in part due to Deluce being destabilized by sleeping sickness.
Of course on their journey, Isabelle and William start to have feelings for each other (don’t worry, there is no love triangle). The romance in this is really well done and surprised me in its intensity and how beautifully rendered it was:
William hesitates before responding. Isbe realizes that every time he pauses, every time he takes a breath, she unconsciously holds hers in, waiting. And when his words come, they rush to her, convincing and taut as a harpoon’s line, their point snagging into her heart and pulling, pulling… “Tell me something else about her,” William says.
Isbe leans against the wall, its cool, damp marble providing small relief to the overwhelming heat.
She can’t help it. She doesn’t want to talk about Aurora–not in this moment, not when she can feel the intensity of the prince’s gaze on her skin; not when the steam is wrapping itself around her senses, making her emotions slick and difficult to hold in, like if she lets her guard down for even a second, some secret truth may slip out that she’ll forever regret.
And yet the details pour out of her–because some parts of us never change. Some facts are inalterable. You cannot crack open Isbe’s heart without releasing the purest form of love she knows: her love for her sister.
There is no implication that Isabelle and Aurora love each other only because they are sisters. They are best friends through choice, not birth. Acting as a foil to their relationship is Malfleur and her sister, Belcoeur. Everyone believes Belcoeur is dead, but she is not. When Aurora falls into her sleep, she wakes up in the kingdom of dreams, Sommeil, that Belcoeur has constructed. Here Aurora has her voice, her sense of touch (which overwhelms her), and she meets a boy named Heath who helps her navigate the strange kingdom. There is a Heath/Aurora romance as well.
Belcoeur has long since gone mad due to a striking betrayal by Malfleur. Her kingdom is similarly steeped in madness, the land constantly shifting, dangerous and unpredictable. The people who live there are starving. Heath has been carefully mapping the shifts in passageways throughout the kingdom, trying to find a way out. Aurora is determined to save the people of Sommeil and make her way home to her sister.
So we have two romances, a story of two best friends who happen to be sisters, the story of two sisters who happen to be enemies, and a lot of adventure. Add to that some really gorgeous writing and I was hooked.
Spindle Fire doesn’t really end on a huge cliffhanger, but the story is definitely not resolved. This is a duology and the sequel, Winter Glass, is out, so you can finish the series off and not have to wait for another release.
I often enjoy fairy tale retellings, and with it’s strong romantic subplots and an emphasis on female friendships, Spindle Fire was even more delicious than I expected.
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Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer
April 11, 2017