Robin McKinley's Spindle's End is a retelling of the tale of Sleeping Beauty. The evil fairy, Pernicia, curses the three month old princess Rosie on her name-day, the curse being that she will die by pricking her finger on a spindle. However, a young fairy called Katriona snatches the baby away from Pernicia, telling Rosie that she can have Katriona's gift, which is a baby magic (although she is no longer a baby) that allows her to speak to animals. Katriona takes Rosie to her home village of Foggy Bottom to raise her in safety, in the secrecy of ordinariness. So Rosie grows up out in the country, not knowing anything of her background, believing that Katriona and her aunt are her cousin and aunt, but with the ability to talk to all animals. In addition, she becomes friends with Narl, the taciturn Smith, and then makes a name for herself as a plain-spoken horse doctor. Until three months before her twenty-first birthday, when she is rediscovered.
The story starts out in a rather self-conscious fairy-tale style, but becomes more of a straightforward fantasy as it continues and we get to know the various characters better. It has much in common with the style of Beauty and contains some lovely images:
Cats were often familiars to workers of magic because to anyone used to wrestling with self-willed, wayward, devious magic - which was what all magic was - it was rather soothing to have all the same qualities wrapped up in a small, furry, generally attractive bundle that looked more or less the same from day to day and might, if it were in a good mood, sit on your knee and purr. Magic never sat on anybody's knee and purred.
We get all the classic elements of the familiar fairy tale - the fairy godmothers, the curse, the spinning wheel, the castle surrounded by thorns, the wakening kiss - but with an unexpected twist, all told in McKinley's combination of down-to-earth characters and dreamlike prose. Therefore, in spite of it being a very well-known tale. the twists add enough complexity, uncertainty and suspense that the reader is desperate to find out how on earth it can all end happily ever after - because it is, of course, a fairy-tale in the end.