The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman is quite simply one of the most beautiful books I have ever owned. The cover art alone is worth the price. It is a reworking of a classic fairytale, cleverly told and nicely illustrated. Initially I was drawn to this book by the way in which the cover is set up - the hard back book depicts a line drawn image of a girl sleeping, which is then overlaid by a semi-transparent dust cover, decorated with gold leaves and black flowers. The overall effect is one of looking through an enchanted mist to a vision that lies beyond. If you have ever wondered what a witch sees when scrying then this book cover is a great example of a scrying experience- it is an image which lies just beneath the surface of the water, crystal or mirror, so close you can almost touch it, yet it remains just out of reach.
The Sleeper and the Spindle is of course about the Sleeping Beauty, but there is more than one twist in this tale. There is no prince for a start - yet a white charger still rides to the rescue. The evil fairy is present throughout - though she is not quite what she seems. And the hero of the story is someone readers will already be very familiar with - yet not as previously known to them. It is one of those books which takes everything you know about the fairytale world and turns it on its head. Neil Gaiman is also brave enough to pose the question "Love or Freedom?" and is smart enough to turn it into a choice, for rarely do women achieve both at the same time and even a queen must choose between the two.
The book is illustrated throughout by artist Chris Riddell and the images remind me of the works of Arthur Rackham who was one of the leading fairytale book illustrators of the 20th century. The Sleeper and the Spindle certainly has the feel of a luxury book and one that will be treasured. It is far too beautiful to shelve away in one of my bookcases and I think I'm going to place it on the lectern in the study instead, so I can see it whenever I'm working. It's such an enchanting book it makes me smile just to look at it and it makes a stunning addition to my fairytale collection.