There seems to have been a glut recently of people re-writing classic fairy tales and 'The Sleeper and the Spindle' is Neil Gaiman's contribution. It is a concoction of ideas from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, with a very clever twist, and beautiful, subtle illustrations by Chris Riddell that bring a real fairytale feel to the book.
Our main protagonists are a group of three dwarfs who discover a sleep plague spreading across a neighbouring kingdom and so seek the assistance of their queen to break the enchantment; it turns out she has some experience with these matters. We are not told who they are, but details emerge as the story progresses:
"They had names, the dwarfs, but human beings weren't permitted to know what they were, such things being sacred.
The queen had a name, but nowadays people only ever called her Your Majesty. Names are in short supply in this telling." (p.23)
Meanwhile in the castle at the centre of the enchantment a wizened old hag wanders alone and angry amongst the sleepers.
But when the princess is awoken things are not as they might at first appear, and the tables have to be turned before the spell is broken.
The whole experience gives our queen a taste for life and instead of returning for her wedding she sets out with the dwarfs in search of something else.
A book that can easily be read in one sitting, as a bedtime story or on a wet Wednesday afternoon. A tale without the neat happy-ever-after cliché and some wonderful subversion of traditional expectations.