For the first time ever I like a Neil Gaiman novel. I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you.
It wasn’t until I came across a Guardian article with the below image that I decided to give Gaiman a another chance. I mean, how bad could a feminist retelling of Sleeping Beauty be? Besides, the library had a copy so only an investment of time would be required.
A post-curse Snow White is a warrior queen about to get married to a seemingly inferior and submissive man she does not love. When the dwarfs report that the Sleeping Beauty curse is spreading rapidly into Snow White’s lands she jumps at the chance to leave and attempt to break it despite the many princes and knights who’ve died trying over the years.
It’s only when she and the dwarfs arrive at the castle that Gaiman’s story really sets itself apart from other fairy tales and their retellings. Zombie-like sleepwalkers bent on killing. An elderly (and tragic) lady guardian and a Sleeping Beauty who aren’t what you expect. A chaste kiss between Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to break the curse. And an ending which didn’t feel quite right.
Instead of returning home, Snow White runs away from her royal responsibilities and her groom to travel with the dwarfs. Why not return home and refuse to marry? And abdicate the throne, if she really doesn’t want to be queen? That takes more strength than running.
Everything I’ve read by Gaiman (his children’s books) have received no more than two stars. Though he has intriguing ideas, his execution of them is poor, rarely gripping, and written in too few pages to do them justice. Bland characters I felt little for, one way or the other, is another common complaint. But yes, I had similar issues with The Sleeper and the Spindle. They weren’t as pronounced this time. It’s the unexpected and feminist twists that really sets this one apart. Black, white and gold illustrations were also positives I enjoyed.