This YA fantasy sounded so promising, pitched as Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones, but let me down so badly!
Book: The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder
Publication date: 3rd February 2022
Ownership: E-ARC provided free of charge via NetGalley. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: minor violence and injury; mention of house-fire; discussion of abusive relationships.
Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones in this thrilling fairytale retelling for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and All the Stars and Teeth.
Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.
Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.
Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.
Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi–until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.
Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way–not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.
Set in a lush world inspired by beloved fairytales, The Bone Spindle is a fast-paced young adult fantasy full of adventure, romance, found family, and snark.
I requested this ARC because of the Indiana Jones comparison in the marketing – I am always here for stories with a tomb raiding, puzzle-solving, bad-archaeology vibe to them. Unfortunately, I felt hugely let down on this front. Despite a huge amount of repetition throughout the whole book that Fi was famous as the coolest, best treasure hunter around, there is exactly one scene of this, and it takes place right at the beginning of the book. After that, there is nothing – no puzzles to solve, no mysterious old temples or crumbling tombs, no booby traps and no treasure. The whole thing is a set up to push Fi into the main plot, which is a very basic quest to reach the castle where Briar Rose sleeps. Even when my hopes had been continually dashed throughout the book, I still hoped that the castle might be a big end-piece puzzle dungeon, like any respectable Indiana Jones homage, but nope. They just walk right in. The whole treasure hunting aspect of this book is wildly oversold.
What we have instead is a competent YA fantasy at the younger end of the age bracket that honestly fell completely flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad book – I just really failed to connect with it, and I can’t quite work out why. It’s flat. I found the characters boring, even though they’re actually quite well-fleshed out. I found the pacing too fast, even though actually there are large swathes where little happens. I found the world shallow and the magical history kind of underbaked, even though there’s plenty of exploration of it. I drove myself up the wall reading this book, because I just could not figure out why I wasn’t having a great time! I even pulled out my editor brain and started looking at it on the sentence level, but there was nothing technically wrong with it! Who knows. Just a mystery mismatch, I guess.
There are some flaws I can pull out that are more concrete, which might be informative. Most prominently, this has not one, but two romances that are wholly insta-lovey, and the character work is simply not strong enough to support that; both Fi and Shane fall head over heels with people they’ve just met and start talking about fate and acting irrationally. Shane and Red’s relationship annoyed me more than Fi and Briar’s, because at least we had some scenes from Briar’s perspective, and we got to see plenty of conversations between them (plus, I can make some excuses for fairy tale romance if it’s lampshaded, as it is here). Red, on the other hand, just pops up occasionally as a sexy, cool thief who flirts with Shane and vanishes; this isn’t helped by Shane being an angsty, whiny person to begin with, so when she’s left behind she gets worse. I rolled my eyes everytime we had a flashback to her past – she manages to be naive and full of swagger at the same time and I thought her backstory really didn’t give her a good enough reason for her issues. While I love that we’re getting more sapphic leads, I didn’t think that Shane added anything to the book; I would have enjoyed this so much more if it was just Fi’s perspective, as she’s a much more interesting and believable character.
I definitely think that The Bone Spindle suffered a little bit from a dissonance between the content and the tone. On several occasions it felt like the content wanted to be a bit darker (Fi’s relationship with her controlling ex, the subplots about curses and destiny and free will, the witch hunters that populate the world), and I would have loved something that explored those elements more, but it was held back by a very young-feeling narration and a light-heartedness that felt a little forced. Something that particularly annoyed me was the ongoing subplot about Shane’s “wanted” poster – I don’t know if this was a nod to Tangled or not, but the joke that it didn’t look like her was repeated so often and really took a lot of the tension out of the actual “wanted” part. Also, that whole side of things was ridiculous and highlighted the poor worldbuilding – people constantly recognise Shane (and Fi to some extent) and I just didn’t see how that could work in a medieval world with no special communication methods. How is she so famous for being a teenage huntsman-for-hire that random people in taverns go ‘oh hey, it’s Shane the huntsman!’ all the time?
Oh, one more major bugbear of mine – this is the first book in a series, and not the kind of series where each book stands by itself. No, none of the marketing tells you that (though there’s a little #1 on Goodreads if you look closely). Don’t go into this expecting much to be resolved by the end of the book, you’ll be disappointed – I’m so fed up of publishers doing this!
So overall, as you might be able to tell, this book wasn’t for me! Having said that, I didn’t exactly have a bad time reading, though some things annoyed me – it’s definitely readable and as I say, competent. It’s just one of those books where the more I think about it, the more I feel let down – there are books out there that do every element of this better and more cleverly. I think this would be good if you were looking for a very quick, very fluffy popcorn read – and weren’t too fussed about the lack of Indiana Jones vibes. It’s tricky to give a rating to, but I’ll give it a generous three out of five cats.