Fairy tale re-tellings are hit-or-miss for me; I’m seldom so in love with a fairy tale that I have much patience with hearing it again, and it’s rare that the re-telling provides surprises me with a take on the original that I hadn’t already considered.
SPINDLE, which just came out yesterday, is one of the latter — an old story made startlingly new. You can tell from the title that it’s Sleeping Beauty (or Briar Rose; this fairy tale is so ubiquitous that it has more than one name). I admit I was not particularly optimistic going in, not least because this tale already has some excellent re-tellings: Spindle’s End, by Robin McKinley is probably the gold standard, but I’m also fond of Linda Medley’s The Curse of Brambly Hedge. Johnston was entering a crowded playing-field, and I didn’t see how she was going to distinguish herself.
But she did, and she has, and it’s mythic and moving. Johnston has taken on the problem of female victimhood — a princess cursed to prick her finger and sleep until she is rescued, who has no say in her fate — and turned it on its ear. A victim, after all, is not just a casualty. She can also be a devotion, an offering, the one who chooses and saves the world.