Monday, December 05, 2016

Spindle by E.K. Johnston

It's December; the nights are a little longer and a little colder, and if you're feeling a little weary of 2016 then E.K. Johnston's Spindle will be a literary balm for your soul. It's written in a lush style that evokes its fantastical world without getting in the way of its story. It's tight and well-paced—you could read it in a day if you choose.

The simplest summary of Spindle, a companion novel to last year's A Thousand Nights, is that it's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But most of us western readers have a notion of what a retelling of Sleeping Beauty would be like, and Spindle is so much more than that. This is a tale containing a princess who steals herself, a hunt for magical creatures, and a roadtrip done completely by walking.

Because, in truth, Spindle is a book about consequences that fearlessly valourizes kindness. It has more in common with Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor and Tessa Gratton's The Apple Throne than Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

You don't have to have read A Thousand Nights—what you need to know is sprinkled through Spindle to make it completely accessible to new readers. You could even read Spindle first and then read A Thousand Nights after. They're both contained stories on their own, but Spindle is the consequences of A Thousand Nights.

In A Thousand Nights we met creatures incapable of creating, who fed on those who could. Craft—the act of creating—has power in these books. Spindle does explore the power of craft being turned against creators, but adds in another layer of looking at the danger of not creating when you have the power to. Spindle believes the consequences of craft—regardless of what they might be—are worth it. Because Spindle believes when we are creating—actively telling our own story—we are most alive.

Imagine, for a moment, that any act of creation primed you to become the ideal vessel for a malevolent creature. Be it cooking a meal or braiding your hair or sewing a stitch. Any making would eventually unmake you.

Imagine being so capable, your capacity to learn so expansive, that you could master skills immediately. A superpower of sorts, but one that existed to speed up the transition of you losing yourself.

Imagine being cursed with the knowledge that your entire life was intended to prepare you to be a tool for someone else.

What that sounds like is the bleakest book you will read this year—and in Johnston's hands it becomes a story of four people who love each other so much. Who support each other and hope and try. Who bravely live in the shadow of consequences.

It's wonderful to have a story with an asexual narrator, and it's wonderful to see a brave, intelligent, powerful young woman of colour taking control of her own narrative. But in this garbagefire of year, a book that tells you it's worth it to try and hope and fight and do what little things you can to hold out against the bleakness is more than wonderful—it's vital.

Like any fairytale, no one in this book who is kind goes unrewarded for it; no one who is unnecessarily cruel goes unpunished. Maybe that errs on the side of hopeful, but it's the season of hope. Pick Spindle up, settled down, and give yourself a little vacation from the world. You'll come back better from it.

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