Review: Spindle Fire Duology

There are few books that I would equate the experience of reading to physical torture, but Spindle Fire and Winter Glass by Lexa Hillyer managed to accomplish just that. I would never have expected to dislike an adaptation of "Sleeping Beauty" so much after reading so many good ones, and yet here we are. It isn't that Ms. Hillyer doesn't know how to write. Indeed, it's quite the opposite. She seems to think of writing as a way to show off her impressive array of the English language and very little else. With no sense of story structure, the plot and characters in these books fall to the wayside, leaving no motivation on the reader's part to complete them. I received both books from the Spindle Fire duology as a gift and felt obliged to finish them for the sake of completion but took no pleasure in this task.

Spindle Fire and Winter Glass by Lexa Hillyer

Spindle Fire is a re-imagining of "Sleeping Beauty" in which the cursed princess, Aurora, has a half-sister named Isbe. Isbe is blind because the queen and king traded her vision to ensure that Aurora would not die on the day she was fated to prick her finger on the cursed spinning wheel. Prior to this decision, they traded away Aurora's voice and sense of touch in exchange for her beauty and graceful demeanor. You might think that this series is an allegory for bad parenting and how Isbe had to learn to love her sister after going blind for her sake. However, the story barely touches on the king and queen's motivation for their poor decisions, and Isbe loves Aurora instantly without even a hint of resentment for losing her sight. In that case, it must be about how two disabled princesses learn to survive in a cruel world. That would make for an interesting book. But no. After Aurora pricks her finger, she wakes up in another kingdom where she is suddenly able to feel and speak again. Meanwhile, Isbe's blindness never hinders her from doing anything a sighted person can and more, so it becomes a non-issue as well.

These books suffer heavily from Attention Deficit Disorder and a complete lack of organization. Between the two of them, there are no fewer than ten different character perspectives, giving the reader a sense of whiplash and uncertainty about who to root for. I've read other books that alternate between perspectives in each chapter, but those worked because there were only two or three different perspectives. In addition to the two princesses, there were two faerie sisters who sort of parallel their relationship, but not really because their story was so drastically different. Then there were all the love interests that never really seemed to matter in the end. Spindle Fire opens with the death of two of Aurora's suitors who we never get a chance to know. Isbe has an illicit relationship with a stable boy, which may have been intriguing until she seeks out the brother of Aurora's suitors to convince him to wake Aurora from the enchanted sleep but winds up falling in love with him instead. Then Aurora falls for a man she meets in the sleeping world but winds up becoming a lesbian in the second book. What?

The biggest issue with this series is that it never gives the reader a chance to care about anyone or anything that happens. As soon as something starts to get interesting, the plot moves in a completely different direction, and the interesting thing no longer matters, so why bother caring? It doesn't even have a proper ending. The resolution amounts to something along the lines of "Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, so who knows what will happen to these princesses in the future?" That's all well and good, but I don't read fairy tales to experience real life. I read them to escape from it. Maybe the author was trying to avoid the predictability of fairy tale retellings, but in doing so, she took away any reason for her readers to care about anything that happens to the characters.

Maybe this duology has an audience out there somewhere, but I'm not it. If you like gruesome war stories about fickle princesses who can't make up their minds about who they want to spend their lives with, then, by all means, go ahead and check out Spindle Fire and Winter Glass. Perhaps the Game of Thrones crowd would dig this concept. However, if you are a fan of "Sleeping Beauty" or fairy tales in general, I would stay far away from this series. There are no happy endings to be found here.

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