The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

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Seeking out listens for my daily commute I stumbled upon The Spindlers at the local library. It had been on my wish list after some strong reviews when it was released. So I picked it up.

book-the_spindlersWhen Liza’s brother, Patrick, changes overnight, Liza knows exactly what has happened: The spindlers have gotten to him and stolen his soul.

She knows, too, that she is the only one who can save him.

To rescue Patrick, Liza must go Below, armed with little more than her wits and a broom. There, she uncovers a vast world populated with talking rats, music-loving moles, greedy troglods, and overexcitable nids . . . as well as strange monsters and terrible dangers. But she will face her greatest challenge at the spindlers’ nests, where she must pass a series of deadly tests—or else her soul, too, will remain Below forever.

I listened to it in the car for the last week or so.  It was … eh.

There were some creative parts (the idea of the spindlers, the nocturni, etc.) but overall it just seemed a little flat. There were lots of classical elements (changeling, sibling quest, underground world, test of character, etc.) but there was not enough magic to really make it grab you.

It almost had a quest by numbers feel to it. Oliver tried to build suspense by having much of the backstory murky and vague. You jump right into Patrick’s soul being taken by the spindlers with little explanation and soon Liza is down below rescuing him. But the suspense never quite builds and it instead feels underdeveloped. This quick and easy read seems too simple somehow.

I also felt like none of the characters were all that likeable.  Liza was cute and brave of course but her parents were distracted and stressed, Mirabella was odd, cranky, and a coward who betrayed Liza before her later change or heart. The other characters below were all ugly and selfish, etc. All the meaningful relationships seem to happen off stage.  It was Liza against the world and, again, that seemed too simple or flat to me.

One important caveat: this is a middle grade book so perhaps my expectations were too high (although many reviews seem to share my reaction) or I was the wrong audience. Also, one reviewer did make a good point: in the age of big fat book series if you are looking for a cute and quick MG fantasy read this might be a good choice.

It could just be I was not in the right mood or distracted by listening to it in the car because a number of reviewers recommended it.

Kirkus:

As in the author’s first terrific book for middle-grade readers, Liesl & Po (2011), there is a smorgasbord of literary references, including strong echoes of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is laced with humor and engaging wordplay, as well as riddles and death-defying tests and enchantments. Wholly original creatures populate the tale, some reassuring and wise, like the nocturni and lumer-lumpen, others wonderfully macabre (and ferocious), like the queen of the spindlers and the shape-shifting scawgs. In the course of her episodic quest, Liza discovers she is resourceful and brave; she sees things differently than before. Richly detailed, at times poetic, ultimately moving; a book to be puzzled over, enjoyed and, ideally, read aloud.

School Library Journal:

This imaginative fantasy emphasizes individual initiative and the power of hope and friendship. Below is a fully realized alternate world with echoes of both classic literature and mythology. This is particularly notable in its variety of inhabitants. Although the creatures are Oliver’s own creations, such beings as the winged, dream-bearing nocturni and the shape-shifting, cannibalistic scawgs have the feel of true folklore. With strong, self-reliant female characters and well-defined action, this is a strong addition to fantasy collections.

Say it with me: YMMV

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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