Lauren Oliver – The Spindlers
123. The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver (2012)
Read By: Simon Vance
Length: 4h 51m (256 pages)
Genre: Mid-Grade Fantasy Adventure
Started: 30 October 2012
Finished: 02 November 2012
Where did it come from? From the lovely folks at Harper Audio for review.
Why do I have it? While I didn’t capital-L Love Liesl & Po, Oliver’s previous mid-grade novel, I thought it was very original, and very maturely handled, and I was hoping for something similar.
Pesky kid brothers
are bad, but pesky soulless
kid brothers are worse.
Summary: When Liza wakes up one morning, her brother Patrick is gone. Physically, he’s still there at the breakfast table, but Liza knows that his soul is gone, stolen by the Spindlers, evil spider-like creatures that come in the night and take souls to their lair Below. Liza’s parents of course don’t believe her, so she must set out to save Patrick’s soul before it’s too late. The world Below is full of dangers, and even with the help of a giant talking rat named Mirabella, Liza may not be able to reach the realm of the Spindlers before it’s too late for Patrick.
Review: In general, I’ve been having a better-than-usual time with mid-grade fantasy adventure stories recently, but unfortunately, The Spindlers didn’t quite make the cut. It’s a fun adventure story, for sure, well-written with well-built and original characters, and some sufficiently creepy bad guys. I’ve got no doubt that kids in the intended age range (maybe 9-10?) would enjoy the heck out of it. However, it was lacking that little something extra to make it engaging for older audiences as well.
To start with, the plot structure felt like something I’d read many times before. It’s pretty standard fantasy adventure quest, reminding me pretty strongly of Gregor the Overlander (the subterranean setting, sibling-saving plot, and giant talking animals make that comparison pretty inevitable), but also reminding variously of The Odyssey, the movie Labyrinth, and the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The heroine has to face a bunch of challenges and trials and prove their wits and bravery and steadfastness, etc; which meant that a lot (all?) of the plot points were pretty predictable. I also got rather tired of the episodic nature of the story, as Liza faces challenge after challenge. I realize that’s in the nature of this type of story, but in this case, I couldn’t see anything bigger binding all of the pieces together. Eventually it started to feel like a Creature Feature, like the entire point was to see how many beasties Oliver could come up with. This may be a point where the audiobook production (which was otherwise very good) lets the story down; maybe if I’d have had the illustrations I would have been more inclined to roll with the story rather than looking for some overarching theme or additional layers.
So, between knowing well ahead of time how the story was going to pan out, and the lack of any deeper or more complex story elements, I found this story unobjectionable, but also not particularly engaging or all that memorable. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I would have no problem handing this to a mid-grade reader; it’s fun and tells a good story with an interesting sibling dynamic, and I think a lot of kids would really enjoy it. However, for older readers interested in mid-grade fantasy, I’d recommend picking up Gregor the Overlander instead, for a (very) similar adventure story but with a bit more complexity and nuance.
First Line: One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not.
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