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Spindle's End    by Robin McKinley order for
Spindle's End
by Robin McKinley
Order:  USA  Can
Firebird, 2002 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robin McKinley has been on my must read list of fantasy authors for a long time now, and Spindle's End is up there with her best, that is Beauty and the Damar duo, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. Spindle's End is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but McKinley illuminates and gives depth to the traditional tale by setting it in a whimsical world, with characters (especially the heroines) who are so much more interesting than the usual shallow heroes and princesses of legend. Along the way the author takes quite a few liberties with the original storyline, which also make her version great fun to read.

The baby princess is born into a magical country (though her family breeds out magical ability in its heirs), in which professional fairies provide charms and other services to help keep things like bread staying as they are, rather than turning into a flock of starlings or something equally surprising. Births are especially tricky and human parents try to have at least one fairy on hand at such times, though fairies were considered 'wild cards in a country where the magic itself was wild.' Twenty one fairies are invited to the baby's christening (a token male amongst them), along with representatives from each village.

A delightful young fairy named Katriona ends up representing Foggy Bottom, and is secretly entrusted with the baby princess after she is cursed by the wicked Pernicia. Katriona struggles home to her aunt with the baby (who is nursed by animals on the way) and they name her Rosie. Rosie grows into a strong-willed young woman who can talk to animals. Unlike her fairytale equivalent, there is nothing insipid about her, and she grows up 'as safe as ordinariness can make her'. She makes a true friend of Peony, who is everything that she is not ... 'Rosie with her strength and her careless energy, her generosity to everything that lived; Peony with her gentler kindness, her subtler understanding, and an elasticity that had never been part of Rosie's nature.'

Rosie turns twenty-one and those who love her attempt to dilute the effects of the curse by blurring her identity. When the princess finally faces the evil and powerful Pernicia, she has help from all around her, human and animal, and from the magical castle Woodwold itself. The explanation of its thorny barricade is most unusual as is the resolution of happily ever after in this brilliant, whimsical tale of friendship and love. Spindle's End will make you see Sleeping Beauty in a new and much more intriguing way; it's altogether an enchanting read, for young and old.

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