A stand alone fantasy book.

Publication year: 2000
Format: print
Page count: 354
Publisher: ACE

Spindle’s End starts (mostly) with the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. However, unlike in the Disney version, the princess is one of the main characters and there’s no handsome prince to save the day.

The unnamed country where the story takes place is very thick with magic. Very thick. Things can spontaneously change into something else without any warning. Water is especially dangerous because it’s so malleable and fish are almost unheard of. However, most of the people in this country are ordinary although they have a habit of asking things to stay themselves. Fairies are humans who use magic openly. They create charms and cast spells to help people.

When the country’s queen finally has a child, the king and queen invite a representative of every village in the country to the infant princess’ naming day. Originally, they wanted to invite everyone, but this wasn’t practical, so a messager goes to every village with enchanted straws to choose a person randomly.

Katriona is the representative of her village, the Foggy Bottom. She’s 16, and lives with her Aunt who is the most powerful fairy in the village and also a sensible and clear headed woman. Katriona is convinced that she’s not a fairy, though. She walks for several weeks to the capital. During the celebration, she meets a strange man who gives her a very powerful amulet and when a wicked fairy Pernicia arrives uninvited and casts a deadly spell on the infant princess, Katriona alone has the strength to move and she does her best to protect the baby. However, it isn’t enough and the queen’s personal fairy charges Katriona with the care and protection of the little princess until the fairy, Sigil, can send word that it’s safe for the baby to return. Then Sigil teleports the baby and Katriona outside the city, and Katriona begins the long trek back home.

Katriona has the gift of speaking with animals and so she can ask the animals, both wild and domesticated, to help the baby during the journey. Otherwise, there would have been no milk for the baby. Finally, they reach Foggy Bottom and Katriona and Aunt start to wait. And wait.

Meanwhile, the whole country is an uproar: people are afraid of the curse and it’s said that the princess has been taken to safety while the royal army looks for Pernicia. Also, the king demands that there will be no more spindle ends with sharp points in the whole country. A whole industry develops around beautifully carved spindle ends.

While Katriona and Aunt wait for word from the royal fairy, the princess is named Rosie and she grows in the small village as one of the village girls. Rosie is able to talk with animals and makes friends with many of them.

This is a charming re-imagining of the fairy tale. Many of the elements of the story are there but told differently. For example, there are fairy godmothers who give gifts to the little princess but they don’t really work the way they are supposed to. For example, Rosie gets golden hair which twists into ringlets, and white, flawless skin, and blue eyes, but they don’t actually make her pretty. Pernicia’s curse says that she can kill the princess any time before her 21st birthday, not just on that day. Also, in many fairy tales the main character is a man, usually the youngest son. However, Spindle’s End is centered on women.

The main POV character for the first half of the book is Katriona who struggles with her duty to the princess which seems enormous to her, in her young age. Later, the main POV shifts to Rosie when she grows up. There are also brief passages with other POV characters.

The main theme of the book is love; love of family. The queen loves her absent child desperately and longs to see her again. Katriona and Aunt love their adopted little princess and do everything they can to protect her. Katriona is in love with the local wheelwright’s apprentice but they are too poor to marry. Fortunately, there’s not much angst about it. Later, other romantic loves enter the story and there is some angst over them and some misunderstandings as well which I didn’t really care for, but they don’t overwhelm the story and feel rather natural (except for the blighted misunderstanding). However, love of family is seen as the strong bond that can unite people against evil and not having it, like one unfortunate secondary character, can make you miserable and yearn for affection from other people.

Magic is another strong part of the book. Most people don’t have much magic of their own except for babies; some babies produce so much magic that they have to be sent away to fairies for a few years so that their strong magic can be handled without permanent damage. There a few funny stories about it. Magic is also described as willful and not wanting to be handled; not at all like science. Not surprisingly, there’s strong rivalry between village fairies, who are usually women, and the Academy trained magicians, who are usually men. Priests struggle in the middle. Also, the popular opinion is the the royal family should be free of magic and so the reigning monarch’s spouse is mostly chosen for her (or his) lack of magic.

This isn’t an action oriented story at all. It’s very much a growing up story first for Katriona and then for Rosie. Some things might seem a bit too convenient, especially the ending. Of course, that is the nature of fairy tales.