Looking across the breakfast table one morning, twelve-year-old Liza feels dread wash over her. Although her younger brother, Patrick, appears the same, Liza knows that he is actually quite different. She is certain that the spindlers—evil, spiderlike beings—came during the night and stole his soul. And Liza is also certain that she is the only one who can rescue him.
Armed with little more than her wits and a huge talking rat for a guide, Liza descends into the dark and ominous underground to save Patrick's soul. Her quest is far from easy: she must brave tree-snakes, the Court of Stones, and shape-shifting scawgs before facing her greatest challenge in the spindlers' lair, where more than just Patrick's soul is at stake.
Liza is sure that her younger brother Patrick’s soul has been stolen away by the spindlers, spider-like creatures that live Below. She’s sure because her one-time babysitter Anna told Liza and Patrick all about the creatures that live Below, and introduced them to Pinecone Bowling and other games before she went off to college. Liza knows the signs, and she knows that the Patrick living in her house is not the real one. The only thing she can do is to set off on a quest Below to find Patrick’s soul and bring it back Above. On the way she’ll meet an enormous talking rat, and she’ll have to trust, negotiate, and listen in order to make her way to Patrick. And then face the spindlers, of course.
I have complicated feelings about The Spindlers. On one hand, the final chapters of the book were fantastic, and the suspense and resolution were perfectly modulated. There were also gorgeous passages that spoke right to my story-loving soul, such as this one from page 109:
“[H]er parents did not understand—and had never understood—about stories. Liza told herself stories as though she was weaving and knotting an endless rope. Then, no matter how dark or terrible the pit she found herself in, she could pull herself out, inch by inch and hand over hand, on the long rope of stories.”
On the other hand, many of the adventures before the final showdown were derivative, slow-moving and boring. Mix the awkward pacing in with overly elaborate prose (turns out there’s a fine line between something beautiful and something overwrought!), and what results is a book that is just okay and leaning-toward-mediocre.
That said, I am an adult reading a book meant for children, so I asked myself if I would feel the same way if I picked up this book as a child, if I hadn’t already read Alice in Wonderland, The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potters, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or any of the other books that I am quite sure were used to inspire various scenes and creatures. And honestly, I think most of the frustration I felt with the book would go away, except for one thing: the pacing. The middle chapters, while each describing glorious or terrible scenes on Liza’s journey below, are still just scenes. There’s an absence of building tension, and they drag. And I think, unfortunately, that they drag enough that most kids would put the book down.
As I said, I felt a lot of different things about this book: frustration, interrupted occasionally by pockets of appreciation and wonder, and then unbridled enjoyment at the very end. It was a mixed bag, reflecting my overall experience with Oliver’s writing: sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. In all, an interesting read.
Recommended for: fans of Lauren Oliver and young readers who like adventures, fantasy and talking animals.
Fine print: I read this book for free via the HarperCollins website. I did not receive any compensation for this review.