Every time I go to my local public library, I try to take out at least one YA book, whether I need it or not (to improve the YA stats, and to make room on the shelves. I'm not allowed to donate any more YA books to the library, it's so full, and that hurts). Last night I was looking for a fairy tale retelling, to share for Once Upon a Time Week, and I came home with Spinners, by Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen (1999, Penguin, YA, 197 pages in paperback)-- a retelling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin.
I love (with exceptions) fairy tale retellings. I love the twisty paths the authors take as the stories behind The Story unfold, making the unbelievable and often inconsistent parts of the original into a coherent narrative in which motivations make sense. And in the best sort of fairy tale retelling, the larger world of the new story will be filled with a magic of its own--with new enchantments built on the old.
For the first half of this book, I was afraid that Spinners wasn't this type of book. For one thing, it has, in my mind, three handicaps--it's told in the third person present, and it takes place over a period of 15 years, and it has two points of view. So for the first half of the book, I felt detached from the characters, seeing them as if from great distance. I watched as a young tailor made a terrible, morally reprehensible choice in a desperate effort to win the girl he loved by spinning straw into gold, a choice that led to his becoming a crippled outcast. I wasn't sure I cared. I watched as his daughter, believing the miller to be her father, lived a difficult life in his drunken shadow. My worry that I would not find the book reviewable grew.
But then I reached the halfway point, and the daughter, Saskia, began to spin, and her spinning became more and more elaborately narrated and fantastically beautiful. And by the time the miller made his drunken boast to the king, and Saskia found herself shut up in the first room full of straw, facing death unless she could spin it into gold, I was hooked.
Napoli and Tchen had hit their stride, and the motivations of the characters--crippled spinner, the beautiful and talented girl, and the greedy (yet not altogether loathsome) king were falling into place, making the story captivating enough so that the last seventy five pages flew by in tense and engaged reading, even though I knew the ending. Because, as is the case with all good fairy tale retellings, it's not the ending that matters, but how you get there....(or something like that).
This marks another addition to my compendium of Textile Fantasies. Reviewed to date are:
Avielle of Rhia, by Dia Calhoun
The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones
Tom Ass, by Ann Laurence
Brightly Woven, by Alexandra Bracken
Silksinger, by Laini Taylor