Gosh it’s nice to read such a good yarn, because that’s how I’d describe Lauren Oliver‘s new middle grade novel, The Spindlers. It’s the kind of book you want to escape into, curled up under a blanket on a chilly day.
When the spindlers steal Liza’s brother’s soul, only Liza knows what must be done. She descends Below to rescue Patrick’s soul, to an otherworldly place filled with strange creatures. Some are helpful, like the lumer-lumpen, who light the woodland paths, and the nocturni, the caretakers of human souls. Others are terrifying, like the scrags, the shape-shifting lizard-like minions of the spindler queen. Oliver’s book has all of the trademarks of a fine quest story, and as Liza makes her way, relying on her wits and the help of those she meets, the narrative will call to mind some of the best-loved books about venturing to other worlds, such as Coraline, Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland.
There’s something comfortable about recognizing the conventions of a particular type of story, don’t you think? It’s a mixture of feeling reassured and delighted, like when it’s getting close to Christmas and you start taking out all of your most loved decorations and setting them up around the house. “Oh yes, there you are!” you think when you unwrap your favourite ornaments after months of forgetting about them. So in The Spindlers, when you first meet the eccentric talking rat Mirabella, you soon see that she will be Liza’s guide on her adventure and it starts feeling like the story is falling into place in a way that is familiar and magical at once. By the time I reached the last part of the story and it became clear that it was going to end with a “test of wills” where Liza would have to outsmart the spindler queen in order to win her brother’s soul, I was a very satisfied reader. I love that plot element of many quest stories.
What I think is special about The Spindlers is that Oliver manages to offer readers a conventional quest structure, but with more than enough creativity in the world and characters she has imagined to make the book feel different and memorable in its own right. I’d say it’s less frightening than Coraline, but just as captivating. I think it could be quite something in a graphic novel format too. Iacopo Bruno’s striking cover certainly gets me wishing that there were some illustrations scattered throughout the book. A gorgeous new adventure that belongs right next to some of the great classics, The Spindlers will be winning over readers for a long time to come.
The Spindlers is published by Harper.