Leslie Vedder and cat reading the Bone Spindle

In ‘The Bone Spindle,’ Leslie Vedder Offers a Gender-Swapped Fairytale

'Sleeping Beauty' gets a twist in this young adult novel that switches out the traditional roles of the hero and heroine.

Indiana Jones meets the Brothers Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty in Leslie Vedder’s “The Bone Spindle.” Like every good story, there lies a twist. The prince has fallen under a sleeping spell to ward off a deadly curse. A brash huntsman — err… woman — hunting for treasure, and a noblewoman historian-turned-treasure-hunter with a secret curse of her own, team up for what is initially just one job. However, a cursed spindle draws the duo and the sleeping prince into an adventure that could save him and his kingdom.

It is not often that a fairytale novel, especially a takeoff of a classic, catches the eye of this avid reader. In fact, the last fairytale I read was in middle school. But the cover caught my eye like a spark of light in the dark. Two women on one cover that aren’t fighting each other — especially women dressed in non-feminine attire and carrying axes — is rare. If that wasn’t enough, the small tag line above the title, “Kiss the prince, break the curse,” throws the mind for a spin. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? In “The Bone Spindle,” the answer is a resounding no.

Vedder took to Goodreads to express her feelings about her book, declaring it her “love letter to fairytale mashups” that simultaneously captures the idea of “girl treasure hunters, two love stories, and a whole lot of snark.” While her own review is among over 400 others, the novel garnered only 3.9 stars out of 5. That’s not a terrible score for a young adult novel that only came out three months ago. One could also count it as a win for the queer community to see a queer author receive good reviews for a queer novel.

Oh, was that not mentioned before? “The Bone Spindle” also represents the queer community with Shane, the ax-wielding huntsman. She carries the torch with her snark, bravery and sometimes barbaric mannerisms toward her partner. Her love interest is an interesting one. Vedder gives her the name Red but teases the character throughout the novel. She shows up at the most unlikely times, usually with a bit of chaos tied to her. Danger wrapped in flirtatious beauty with a smile is just Shane’s — and this reader’s — type.

Of course, our noblewoman is not without her own love interest. Fi, kept from her family by a curse bestowed upon her by her psychotic ex, is now tied to the sleeping prince, Briar Rose. The most relatable part is perhaps being cursed by an ex. Maybe not like this, of course, but we’ve all been cursed at by one. Due to the touch from the same spindle that put Briar under, he and Fi are tied by magic. He can appear to her anytime, even in dreams. This is an angle that’s never been done before.

The prince’s ability to see what’s going on during his sleeping state makes the novel vibrant in ways that go beyond just great characters and world-building. “The Bone Spindle” reads like a mix of Indiana Jones and “The Lord of the Rings” with a dash of “Lily and Astrid Save the World.” Only, Shane is Gimli, and not just because she’s described as short, while Fi is Jones. But they make up a badass pair with extra passion and compassion for each other as their partnership turns into friendship. Vedder’s storytelling makes you wonder just when they become friends.

Even better is her ability to keep that wonder going when the villain, The Spindle Witch, makes her appearance after stalking Fi and Shane on their journey. Anxiety builds as the end of the book nears, and personally, it feels like the anticipation you experience when you are at the top of the biggest drop on a rollercoaster. Knowing it will happen, our heroines will face danger and possible death, but they don’t know exactly when it will come.

The villain’s storyline is written as more of a background story to the main plot, and the fact that they don’t come out swinging like other villains is refreshing — that is, compared to the rest of the twists, like seeing the person who cursed Fi end up at Fi’s family home. It felt inevitable that we would meet the infamous ex-partner or have Shane caught by the housekeeper. Some clichés work well, though. While Vedder tried to keep these discreet, avid readers tend to find them too easily. With all of this, “The Bone Spindle” did not cease to excite. It was difficult to put down to focus on school or homework — now that is the mark of a good book.

Having indulged in the fairytale spun by Vedder, “The Bone Spindle” left the desire for more. Yes, there is a happy ending, but it is not complete. Granted, the ending felt more like a season finale for “Once Upon a Time,” where a guaranteed resolution is coming soon. Looking ahead, Vedder shared on Goodreads that she’s planning on writing a sequel. Whether it will live up to “The Bone Spindle” or not remains to be seen. Unfortunately, like all good books, it will be a while for the next book to come out.

Rebecca Trevathan, University of Texas at Austin

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Rebecca Trevathan

University of Texas at Austin

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