Lauren Oliver, The Spindlers

Hodder and Stoughton, 2012. ISBN 978-1-444-72312-0

Liza’s brother Patrick changes overnight from an infuriating but lovable little boy to a well-behaved simulacrum of himself with no spirit and no sense of fun. She alone realises what has happened: his soul has been snatched by the spindlers. Their parents are wrapped up in financial worries and do not notice that Patrick is any different. She must get his soul back on her own. If she doesn’t, he is doomed.

Armed with just a broom to ward off the spindlers, Liza sets off on a terrifying rescue mission Below. Trials and tribulations beset her in a frightening underground world peopled with bizarre magical beings who will do anything to prevent her reaching her goal. Liza’s love for her brother is tested to the limit. But she meets one companion she can rely on. Mirabelle is a rat, a rat who speaks, and who walks on her hind feet. A rat who is made up to the nines with cosmetics stolen from Above, who dresses in a skirt stitched together from newspapers, who wears an ill-fitting wig fashioned from material, wire and thread. A rat who longs for a friend. Mirabelle helps Liza overcome desperate dangers and triumph over a succession of dreadful creatures. Mirabelle knows who they can trust, like the lumpen who can be cajoled to light their way, and the nocturni, black butterflies who bestow knowledge to the humans Above, and have life-long care of their souls. And she knows who to be afraid of, like the tiny but petrifying nids, and the crafty and evil-smelling scawgs. Finally they reach the spindlers’ lair. Liza discovers that the worst of her perils are still to come. Is she up to the challenges that the devious and monstrous spindler queen sets her? Will she recover Patrick’s soul before the spindlers’ feast of the souls? Will she ever see her family again?

Eight to twelve year-olds with a taste for fantasy will love The Spindlers. Lauren Oliver (author of Liesl and Po) is an excellent story-teller. Her subterranean world is an impressive creation, and the creatures in it compelling. There are touches here of The Borrowers, and reminders too of Alice in Wonderland, particularly in a splendid trial scene. A quest story with love, magic, adventure, friendship, betrayal, bravery, loss, fear and redemption, the book has something of a fairy-tale feel to it. Liza is a hero in the fairy-tale mould, who battles her enemies and her terrors with courage and determination.