Robin McKinley’s fantasy worlds are so rich you can feel the magic in the air. That’s the premise at the beginning of Spindle’s End, her creative retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, too: It’s set in a pastoral universe buzzing with fantastical elements, from talking animals to water with a mind of its own. McKinley’s story is familiar and her setting recalls the archetypical rural idyll of a Disney fairy tale, but the twists are unexpected and the characters well-defined and quirky. Rosie, her princess, is cursed at birth—but a friendly fairy smuggles her away to a small village to grow up in relative safety, oblivious to her royal identity and happy to get her hands dirty as an animal healer. As Rosie’s fateful 21st birthday approaches, the magic of the curse reaches a boiling point. In McKinley’s smart final act, however, it’s the power of selfless friendship and true generosity that saves the day, not a generic handsome stranger. She teaches us that princesses—so often relegated to passive roles—have power of their own. —Raisa Bruner

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