Robin McKinley brings a new shape to an old tale, Sleeping Beauty, that packs a punch and laughs in the face of the damsel in distress type.
In the land where the tale is set, magic pervades everything. One humorous example is that residents have to ask good-willed fairies to come and de-magic their kettles at least once a week, for the fear that they will get something altogether different from the desired hot water.
Magic and non-magic people live together harmoniously - mostly. And this is where the conflict enters. On the princess' name-day, a day of tumultuous celebration after the many years of the queen trying and failing to conceive, Pernicia, (a wicked fairy), arrives, having taken exception to the fact that she wasn't invited. She lays the famous curse upon the child and leaves all to panic.
Katriona, a young fairy from Foggy Bottom in the north of the kingdom takes the baby away for safety. Only the King and Queen's closest fairy adviser knows, and promises to send a sign when the time is right. Katriona, who only came because she was chosen by lot, is utterly bewildered by the change in circumstances but does not shy away from the challenge.
After a few months' hard journeying, she arrives home with the baby - whom she decides to call Rosie, from the baby's given 21 names - and reveals all to her Aunt. Her Aunt, knowing the gravity of the situation, casts a glamour over the village so they just think Rosie is another niece of Aunt's.
All is well for the next twenty one years, for the most part. Rosie grows up strong, confident, assured and finds her place with the local blacksmith. Aunt and Katriona, however, are aware that the older Rosie gets, the more desperate Pernicia will be to find them.
The story really diverges from the original when Pernicia appears at a ball given for the princess' 21st birthday. When the guests are consumed by the magic sleep, only Rosie, Narl (the local smith and a closet fairy) and the animals are awake. They do battle with Pernicia and her horde of evil creatures, and the triumph of good over evil is brought to a satisfying close.
Written with spunk, confidence, and humour, Spindle's End is a great read for anyone with a love of fantasy and magic, but also a healthy dose of feminism/subversion of the damsel in distress. I thoroughly enjoyed it.