Book: “Spindle Fire” by Lexa Hillyer
Publishing Info: HarperCollins, April 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: It all started with the burning of the spindles.
It all started with a curse…
Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and her voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.
And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood—and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.
As the faerie queen and her army of Vultures prepare to march, Isabelle must race to find a prince who can awaken her sister with the kiss of true love and seal their two kingdoms in an alliance against the queen.
Isabelle crosses land and sea; unearthly, thorny vines rise up the palace walls; and whispers of revolt travel in the ashes on the wind. The kingdom falls to ruin under layers of snow. Meanwhile, Aurora wakes up in a strange and enchanted world, where a mysterious hunter may be the secret to her escape…or the reason for her to stay.
Review: I don’t really remember how/when this book showed up on my radar, but I have a pretty good guess that it likely had something to do with the beautiful cover. Call me a sucker, but a detailed, non-model-featuring fantasy book jacket is likely to get a second look by me most days! Plus, it’s a fairytale re-telling, and we all know how I feel about those!
In this twisted take on “Sleeping Beauty,” the cursed princess, Aurora, is joined by a half-sister, Isabelle. Together, they’ve navigated the complicated pathways of a royal upbringing, all while missing portions of their senses that were tithed away to fairies at Aurora’s birth. Aurora, beautiful and kind, has lost the sense of touch and the ability to speak; Isabelle lost her sight. Through a secret language of tapping and a strong sisterly bond, the two have faced down every challenge thrown their way. This all comes to an end, however, when a dreadful curse finally comes to pass. But Aurora isn’t just asleep; she’s somewhere else, in a new land that is rife with danger. Just as she works to find her way home, Isabelle sets out to rescue her sister, traversing the country to find a young man capable of kissing her sister awake.
While this book never hit the highs of some of my favorite fairtyale re-tellings, it did have some factors that played heavily in its favor. For one thing, in the multitude of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cindrella” re-tellings that are out there, I haven’t come across as many “Sleeping Beauty” stories. Kind of obvious, when you think about it. It’s definitely a challenge to tell a story where the main action all takes place while your heroine is asleep. But Hillyer had a somewhat brilliant, two-fold answer to that. Not only does Aurora experience a different world while her physical body back in “reality” sleeps, but we’re given an entirely new, secondary heroine in the form of Isabelle who inherits much of the plot often relegated to the Prince.
Stating the obvious once again, I do love me some stories about strong sisterly bonds and, as that’s at the heart of this story, I was also predisposed to enjoy it for that reason. We have just enough time and background detail given in the beginning of the story to appreciate the special relationship the two sisters have built with each other. For one one thing, each is approaching the world from a challenging position. Aurora cannot feel or speak. She doesn’t know when she’s injured and can’t communicate with those around her. Isabelle can’t see. Of the two, Isabelle, through either nature or necessity, is still the much more capable one. But even with that being the case, we see how Aurora’s more quiet goodness has protected Isabelle throughout their childhoods, as well. But when separated, we truly see them shine. Aurora comes into her own, having to play a more active role in her own story without the guiding force of her sister. And Isabelle escapes the confines of a palace that has always looked down on her as mostly just a nuisance.
I did end up enjoying Isabelle’s story more, of the two. Her experiences navigating the world without sight were interesting and spoke to the strength and abilities of those who are blind. She always manages to find clever ways of accomplishing things that one would at first guess to be beyond her. She is also able to use her better developed other senses to suss out information that others might have missed. She is also given the better story arc as far as romance goes, though there is a whiff of a love triangle in the air that I didn’t appreciate.
Aurora’s story fails pretty miserable in the romance department, introducing an instalove romance quite quickly and never really delving into much more than that. But luckily, her story is the one that takes place in the heart of an enchanted land where the mysteries behind her curse are truly at play. So we’re giving a good number of distractions on that front, and the secret history of the fairies is definitely worth the wait.
The story is also broken up with various chapters from some of the fae perspectives. Not only do we get into the mindsets and histories of the two fairy sisters who brought this all to pass, but other, secondary fairies are also given perspectives. Some of these felt more useful than others, but I also found the interludes to be nice breaks from the standard POV switches between our main heroines. We were given a lot of great world-building and the fairy history and politics were padded out, as seen through the eyes of the various fairies involved.
The story doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but it also definitely doesn’t end at all, making it necessary to read the second book to complete the story. While this one felt a bit light, as far as storytelling goes, I was definitely invested enough in the princesses’ stories to want to complete the duology. Here’s to hoping the love triangle is stomped out quick and the instalove…I don’t know, does something. For fans of fairytale retellings, I think this one is definitely worth a shot. Go in expecting a lighter, quick read and you’ll likely be left satisfied.
Rating 8: A few stumbles in the romance department, but still a sweet fairytale retelling at its heart.
“Spindle Fire” is only on variations of the same list on Goodreads, so here it the broadest one: “Fairy tales & Retellings.”
Find “Spindle Fire” at your library using WorldCat!