I’ve been going crazy for three whole days. Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell’s most recent collaboration, The Sleeper and the Spindle, came out on Tuesday and I wouldn’t have the money for it until today, Friday—a day when I’ll be at work for ten hours straight. I’ve been going crazy. And my boyfriend noticed. Because he’s the best boyfriend in the world, when he came home from work last night it was with a copy of the book I’ve been coveting for three whole days. He even took the time to make sure the copy was in good condition. Because he’s the absolute best.
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.
Lavishly produced, packed with glorious Chris Riddell illustrations enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift.
Let’s talk first about the art. Chris Riddell’s illustrations are perfect, just the right mix of whimsical and gothic—two words which describe this story pretty well. The illustrations are all black and white and gold accents, some of them include pieces of the text. Possibly my favorite thing about these illustrations are the skulls scattered through them: the queen’s bedspread is patterned with them, it’s the pommel of her sword and the buckle on her belt, and there’s one on the titular spindle. It’s a neat little detail, the presence of death in almost every illustration that accompanies this story, a casual reminder of its every day presence.
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors and has been since I first encountered his writing in Good Omens when I was fourteen. The writing of this story is every bit as wonderful as I could have hoped for. Of all the wonderful pieces that compose this story, my favorite is a bit about names. “They had names, the dwarfs, but human beings were no permitted to know what they were, such things being sacred. The queen had a name, but nowadays people only ever called her Your Majesty. Names are in short supply in this telling.” It’s a reminder that this is only one such telling of this story—or even these stories—one telling of many.
The Guardian posted an article just over a year ago, and included this story as an example of non-heteronormative relationships in fiction. This story, with the queen who wakes the princess with her kiss, is a wonderful example of the sheer normality of it all. This review has been relatively spoiler free up until now, but I will say this: the queen and the princess do not end up together in the end. The queen makes her way to another kingdom, on a mission to wake up a sleeping woman, and to do it she bestows a kiss. She never questions it as the correct action, and so the story never makes a big deal out of it—in fact, the story doesn’t make any sort of a deal out of it at all. That was really nice to read.