Monday 28 February 2022

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Review: The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder (#Ad)

A proof of The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder laying on it's open pages, so you can see front and back cover. It's laying on a navy scarf with metallic silver moons and stars. It's surrounded by dried, stringy, green foliage, with three dried roses and two rose petals.c

I received this eProof for free from Hodder Children's Books via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.

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The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder

Published: 3rd February 2022 | Publisher: Hodder Children's Books | Source: Publisher
Leslie Vedder’s Website

Filore, a treasure hunter with a knack for riddles, is busy running from her own deadly curse, when she pricks her finger on a spindle. Bound to the sleeping prince Briar Rose with the spindle’s magic – and chosen as the only person who can wake him – Fi is stuck with the prince’s ghost until she can break his ancient curse and save his kingdom.

She’s going to need a partner. A warrior huntswoman with an axe to grind (literally), Shane couldn’t care less about curses and ancient texts. But instead of riches, the two girls find trouble.

Dark magic, witch hunters, nightmarish beasts – and of course, curses – all stand in their way as Fi and Shane undertake the dangerous journey into a forgotten kingdom where the sleeping prince’s body waits.
From The StoryGraph.

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Being such a fan of fairy tale retellings, I've wanted to read The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder ever since I first heard about it. A gender-reimagined retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a sleeping prince, plus a separate f/f storyline - it couldn't be more up my street. However, I was actually really disappointed.

Let's start with the positives. I really liked the premise. I loved that it was a prince that needed rescuing, and it was a woman that needed to do it. I liked how Vedder dealt with the problematic issues of the original story - someone being kissed (or worse) without their consent while asleep - by Briar Rose's spirit being able to appear to Fi once they've been bound together. A kiss is needed to break the sleeping spell, but it doesn't have to be true love's kiss; just a kiss from the girl who is bound to Briar Rose, a girl who is drawn to the bone spindle and pricks her finger. With Fi and Briar able to interact, the non-consensual element is removed; Briar is actually very eager for Fi to find him and kiss him, to wake him up. His body is trapped by the sleeping spell, but his spirit is free to roam the castle, and now he's bound to Fi, he's able to transport himself to wherever she is.

I also really liked the backstory of the curse, because it's so much more than just a fairy who was snubbed by not being invited to a Christening. It's about the Spindle Witch, who saved Briar's life as a baby in exchange for spells that have been hidden for centuries, who doesn't receive her payment of the spells that have been hidden for centuries because the magic kills the Queen, and the King refuses. But the magic binds Briar to the witch, so she plans to use her dark magic on him when he turns 16 to get them. To stop her, three other Great Witches come together to put Briar and the people in the castle to sleep, to save them from the Spindle Witch, until such a time as a girl comes to break the spell. There's more to it, but that's the basic gist. The prologue of the story tells us Briar's story, and it's so cool and intriguing, I was really excited for how it would end.

This is a world where sexuality isn't something anyone bats their eyes at, which was awesome. The story is a mainly dual narration; while Briar gets a chapter every now and then, it's primarily told from Fi and her partner Shane's perspective. Shane's complicated backstory gives us something wonderful. She is heir to a small island nation, Steelbright, and is to become War King after her father dies. But War Kings need heirs, how does that work when Shane is a lesbian? Arranged marriage with a woman from an allied country, who, when the time comes, will choose an appropriate man from her country to impregnate Shane. We're not told how, but given everything else, I would assume it's not awful. But I love it! First of all, the heir is a woman, and secondly she's a lesbian, and this is not an issue in regards to her ruling. Of course there are complication that come with arranged marriages, but this is the first time that I've ever seen anything like this, and it's bloody fantastic!

But, sadly, the rest of the story isn't. I'm a big high fantasy fan, and as such, there were things that really grated on me, because they didn't fit a high fantasy. You can't have a historical inspired world, and then throw contemporary elements into it. It's jarring. Descriptions of clothes would fit the historical inspired setting, until "pants" were mentioned. The way they all talk is too contemporary. I'm not saying the language has to be archaic, but there is a level of expectation. Shane should not be greeting Fi with "Yo!" No-one should be falling on their "butt," and no-one should be calling anything or anyone "cute." They go against high fantasy conventions, against a high fantasy reader's expectations, and I really didn't like it.

Then there were the characters themselves; I just didn't warm to them. Shane was incredibly snarky, and Fi is really quick to lose her temper. They're constantly bickering, and it gets old really quickly. They always have each others' backs, and they very loyal, but the bickering just gets to be too much. And then there's the romance. It's practically love at first sight; all of the characters barely know each other, but they fall hard and fast super quickly - though Fi does try to resist for her own reasons - but I cannot get emotionally invested in a romance when there is no real foundation for it. And Brair's chapters where he's pining over Fi are so cheesy, I was so glad there were only a few from his perspective.

And the story only really properly starts 70% into the story. Once Fi is pricks her finger and is bound, most of the story is spent trying to get hold of border passes to get into Andar to actually start trying to save the prince. There are various obstacles in their way, but the majority of it seemed pointless and unnecessary. It was mainly for us to get to know the characters and learn about their backstories, but there has to have been another way. I spent the majority of the book waiting for them to actually get moving. And it's a shame because that last 70% was actually pretty good! Much more interesting, faster paced, a lot going on. There was an element regarding a certain character that was really predictable, though. But I'm intrigued by it, because most of the story I was thinking there were things that also made me think of Little Red Riding Hood, and now I think maybe that will be the focus of the sequel, The Severed Thread, based on what little description of it there is. Despite not liking the characters, and how jarring the contemporary aspects were, if The Severed Thread is a lot more like the last 70% of the book, I'd be tempted to try it. But I think I'll wait for more information and maybe a few reviews before I decide.

The Bone Spindle wasn't for me, but I think it was a wrong book, wrong reader situation. Do check out some other reviews before deciding whether to read it or not, as a lot of people have really enjoyed it.

Thank you to Hodder Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

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