Title: Spindle Fire
Author: Lexa Hillyer
Series: Book 1 out of 2 in the Spindle Fire duology
Format/Source: DISCLAIMER–This is a review of an ARC I received through #booksfortrade on Twitter, so there may be differences from its finished copy.
My Rating: No rating (DNF)
Spindle Fire is a brand new, inventive retelling of Sleeping Beauty that also borrows elements from Alice in Wonderland. (Sounds perfect so far, right?)
It focuses on Princess Aurora of the kingdom of Deluce and her half sister, Isabelle. Though extremely close, the two are, of course, polar opposites–both physically and characteristically.
Aurora is petite and girly, where Isbe is tall and awkward. Aurora is devastatingly gorgeous with sun-kissed hair and skin, while Isbe is pale with dark, contrasting features. Aurora is reserved and perfect as a princess should be, and though Isbe is brave and headstrong, she has always been cast-aside and overlooked; unloved and under-appreciated. After all, she is only kept around out of common courtesy, as she is the illegitimate daughter of Deluce’s late king.
Oh, and there’s another thing: both of the girls are missing key senses after being tithed of them at a young age. Aurora was tithed of her sense of touch as well as her ability to speak, while Isbe was tithed of her sight.
All of their differences aside, the two have always been inseparable. The strong bond between them is all they have left in the world, so when Aurora and the rest of her kingdom falls victim to a strange, ominous sleeping curse, of course Isbe is willing to do whatever it takes to save her beloved sister.
We enter the story the day before Aurora’s sixteenth birthday. Isbe excitedly informs Aurora of the rumors she has heard–Prince Philip (Aurora’s betrothed) and his brother are on their way to finally meet Aurora. But before Aurora even has a real chance to sort out her thoughts and emotions on their arrival, she overhears the devastating news: the two princes were murdered during their travels.
On any given day, it would be sad and horrific to hear of two people being murdered, but this news is particularly heartbreaking for Aurora and her kingdom. The marriage between her and Philip was supposed to bring about an advantageous alliance that would give both countries a fighting chance against the evil that is rumored to be stirring in the North.
That evil is the long-reigning faerie Queen, Malfleur. In Aurora and Isbe’s world, the humans have gradually pushed out the faerie over the years, and now most courts are run by humans. All except the one Malfleur rules, and it is widely believed that she is ready to take back what once belonged to her people.
So, I had expected this to easily be a 4- or 5-star read for me, but after pushing myself for a few days, I only managed to make it halfway through the book, and, sadly, DNF’d it at 214 pages. This is my first DNF on the blog, and believe me, no one feels worse about this than I do.
All that I had been hoping for just wasn’t in this book. It had a great premise, and it sounded like there were intriguing characters, plus I love stories with strong bonds between best friends and siblings, but sadly it just wasn’t executed well.
My biggest complaint–that always affects my ratings, but usually I can push through for inventive plots and vivid characters–is the present tense Hillyer used. It makes it feel like us readers are being talked down to; it makes it seem like the audience is for much younger readers, yet at the same time you know it wasn’t meant for them, what with there being a few mature references and all of the complicated info dumps.
Like I said, I could have looked past the tense issue for the plot and/or characters, but I was bored by the plot and unable to connect with any character–even Isbe, whom I made a real effort in trying to feel something for.
Another big complaint I have, as I mentioned above, concerns the info dumps Hillyer uses to build the world. Now, I’m no stranger to high fantasy novels riddled with complicated plots and hundreds of characters. In fact, one of my favorite series is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.
If I have an easy time understanding and following along with those huge tomes–that sometimes feature around thirty different characters in one chapter–I think it just goes to show you how messy this one was.
Though Hillyer references many characters and places, I could not follow along at all. I had to take notes to keep up, and then it turned out none of the information I recorded was pertinent to the story. I just had no clear picture of what the world looked like or how it operated.
I guess a map was offered with all pre-orders of the book, but I feel that was a mistake. Though I’m not the type to constantly reference maps in books, I think it would have been much more helpful if a map had been included in this one.
The last complaint, is again just the characters and plot. After hyping the book so much and promising strong heroines and a refreshing, unique plot, it’s a huge letdown to not follow through on either of those promises. The plot, or lackthereof, was incredibly tedious and lackluster, and the characters bland and impossible for me to relate to.
I was also excited to read about a blind character, because that has to be hard; how are we supposed to see what’s happening, instead of being told about it? It could have gone completely wrong, but in this one area, Hillyer did a decent job. (So, yay for one positive!)
Conclusion: If you were excited to read this one, like always, I’m not going to tell you not to read it. Everyone has different tastes, and maybe this is the right book for you. No harm in giving it a try. I definitely say download a free sample or borrow it from the library before purchasing though.
On a final note, I did just want to mention two other wonderful Sleeping Beauty retellings that I recommend instead of this one:
The first is The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, and is a short story featuring dark illustrations by Chris Riddell and starring a heroine who saves the day instead of a prince. Highly recommend it!
The second is Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, and while it’s not a perfect book, I really enjoyed it, and liked it much more than Spindle Fire.
Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear opinions on this one, so please leave a comment if you want! 🙂