It was generations ago that a demon was defeated by the Storyteller Queen (as told in A Thousand Nights). The demons were supposed to be safely locked away....but over the years, one has carefully chipped away at the magic keeping them from regaining any power. And now this demon is ready to seize control of two kingdoms....and her first move is to curse a princess. Spindle, by E.K. Johnston (Disney-Hyperion, Dec. 2016), is the story of that curse, and how five kids fought against it. If you love fairy-tale retellings, this is a Sleeping Beauty you should not miss!
Yashaa and his three best friends (two other boys and a girl) live in makeshift camp in the hills forming the boarder between two countries. On the other side is a country that would like to swallow its neighbor. On the other side is the homeland, a place blighted by when a curse was placed on the Little Rose, once the cherished princess, now a princess who is doomed and blamed for her people's suffering. On her fifth birthday, she received gifts from friendly spirit beings, but then things went horrible wrong when she was chosen by a demon to serve as a vessel once she grew up. All that one last spirit could do was to give Rose a way out--if she were to spin, she would fall into a magical sleep.
Yashaa's homeland was once a place where spinning wool brought prosperity, but now no one can spin there without falling ill. And the princess cannot spin (because falling asleep will leave the demon's curse in place), nor can she do anything else creative, because that is the food the demon craves from her. Yashaa is tired of his hopeless life as a refugee, watching his mother dying from after-effects of the curse, so he musters his friends to go back to their homeland, to try to do something, anything, about the curse. The first step is to find the Little Rose, and get information.
The princess is surprised to find Yashaa climbing into the tower room where she's kept a virtual prisoner (an effort to keep her from making or doing anything creative). But she seizes the chance to be part of her own salvation, and compels him to free her. Though Yashaa learns to care for her, despite his initially hostile assumptions, she makes a dangerous travelling companion, and not just because of the demon's curse. The nasty prince of the neighboring kingdom intends to marry her, and spurred on by demonic encouragement, he's determined to hunt her down. Yashaa is equally determined to save her, and she is even more determined to try to find some way to save herself.
On the surface it might sound like a magical adventure-quest book, but it isn't, quite. It is about people more than it is about adventures, and the struggles faced are mostly internal--persevering, wanting to make things, and never giving up hope, being the agent of your own salvation. While I was reading it I thought I was finding it a bit too slow, and wished for more magical occurrences (I loved the gardening gnomes!), but when I finished I realized it had gone by quickly after all, and was vivid in my mind. I like it more now in retrospect than I did during the reading, and I find I still care for all the characters, and find my heart still a little sore from this particular bittersweet take on the concept of "happy ending."
Like the first book in this world, A Thousand Nights, this is a story where belief and strength of will and the making of path that you want events to take is what defeats the demons in the end.
(aside--if anyone is keep tabs of fantasy books where menstruation happens, as one would expect in a story about girls, here's one for you!)
(second aside--this is one for my diverse fantasy read. It's a Near Eastern type world, with brown skinned characters).