Lexa Hillyer’s Spindle Fire is pretty much everything we love about fairy tales. Sleeping Beauty with a twist (spoiler alert: Aurora isn’t really asleep!), this retelling is the story of two sisters, each on a quest to save their kingdom and each other. There’s adventure, curses, dark faeries, and a whole other world waiting just below the surface.
There’s also a map (😍😍😍) and we *especially* love this one’s style. Feast your eyes on this beauty!!!!
Beautiful yet creepy flower vines wrapping around the border? Check. Kingdom crests that we need to know more about ASAP? Check. NARWHALS IN THE NORTH SEA? Definite check.
And the best part? You can win your very own print of it! Find out how to enter here.
You can start reading this magical new fantasy right now. Keep scrolling to read the first three chapters of Spindle Fire, and don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads shelf!
Read the First 3 Chapters Of Spindle Fire
Winter seemed to come early in 1313, the year Aurora was born. For days that July, a mass of damp white flakes clung to treetops and roofs like snow.
Some thought perhaps it was the North Faerie’s doing. They were wrong.
In her day—which was a very long time ago indeed—the North Faerie had been known for wreaking havoc on the skies whenever she lost one of her infamous chess games. But she had died many decades before our story begins, mysteriously murdered in her own home. That’s why the White Throne, carved entirely from the tusks of narwhals, is now called the Red Throne; it’s covered in her blood.
Aurora knows the stories well—she’s read the entire 313-book collection of faerie histories in her grand library. Princesses have a great deal of time on their hands, after all. Especially princesses like Aurora, who have no sense of touch and no voice. These were tithed from her just months after her birth.
But it wasn’t snow that came down that summer, for it didn’t melt. And it wasn’t any faerie’s doing either. As everyone who was alive then and remains alive today remembers vividly, the ashes that rained over heads and homes and whole towns across the kingdom of Deluce had one very distinct quality: the acrid scent of spindle fire.
Mud. Murk. Dankness and blackness and bog land and fog so thick it entered the folds of the mind. This was Isabelle’s world as a child.
Gradually, though, she discovered darkness was not an absence of light but a living thing, an infinitely tangible substance to roll around in and dig into. She began to fall in love with that darkness, exploring its wells of sounds and stirs.
The palace was full of dim corners where the king’s unwanted daughter could play. The whole estate sits right on a cliff above the mouth of the Strait of Sorrow, whose tide pulls clouds to shore and traps them there, churning and unquenchable. This makes the air briny; it has the vague taste of sardines, and the softness of moss. The floors are always slick with moisture, the walls bright dusted with salt. Over time, Isbe learned the feel of every dent in these walls. Every variety of squeak and cry from the floor formed a language—don’t enter, turn right, someone was just in here, or you are alone.
You see, she was blinded at the age of two; the very day of her half-sister Aurora’s christening.
Some people consider it a problem—or even a curse—to be forever trapped in darkness. But Isabelle no longer minds the dark.
Light too can be a curse.
It can illuminate things no one should ever have to witness.
The double doors to the library fly open. Aurora quickly closes The Song of Rowan and tucks it beneath her chair cushion as Isbe tramples in, shaking snow off her boots. Her knotty chestnut hair is in its usual disarray, her plain blue-and-white dress torn in at least two places.
Aurora, on the other hand, believes that a princess is meant to look the part at all times, even if she is merely hiding out alone in her library reading romances. Today, for instance, she is wearing a burgundy underdress with an overdress featuring a complex pattern of golden birds and deep green vines. She even wears a small hennin atop her head, with a long veil trailing behind it.
“Did Rowan take full advantage of his stony love yet?” Isbe asks with a smirk, her eyes fixed on an invisible spot in the distance. She doesn’t have to be able to see to guess: this isn’t the first time Aurora has been caught in private, agonized rapture over the tale of Rowan and his true love, Ombeline, who was turned to stone until a thousand crows came down and pecked her free.
Aurora herself is still waiting to be released, in a way. Not from stone, of course, but from the long, silent hours of wondering, trapped in a world where she cannot speak and cannot feel. Will she find true love with Prince Philip of Aubin? Even now he and his brother are galloping toward the palace. . . .
“Ah, good. Some air. That’s what this room needs.” Isbe has popped open the secret pane in a stained-glass window, allowing delicate flurries to flutter in. Beyond the glass, the famous Delucian cliffs plummet down to the Strait of Sorrow, where Aurora can imagine the snow dissolving like sugar into tea.
Isbe throws herself onto the floor by Aurora’s feet, as she is wont to do. Aurora’s half-sister is as extreme, with her very pale skin and very dark hair, as Aurora is soft, with her warm complexion and blond waves. They are like night and day, or winter and summer. And like both examples, one could simply not exist without the other.
The princess bends down and takes her sister’s hand, tapping into her palm, using the secret language they’ve been evolving and deepening since early childhood. Soon it will be Philip, and not Rowan, who occupies my time—and your filthy imagination.
Occasionally Isbe misses a word here or there, but it’s rare. Princesses—and their bastard half-siblings—have plenty of time to perfect such things. The girls even have a symbol for the name Rowan—the tap for an R and then the pressure sequence that means handsome. This is how Aurora connotes all the heroes in her stories: the letter of his name, followed by an adjective: handsome, charming, loyal, strong.
Isbe flashes her big, jagged, unself-conscious smile at Aurora. “True.” Then her face falls. “I’ll have to rely on my imagination, since I’m sure you’ll no longer have any time to fill me in on the details.”
Aurora squeezes her hand. No. I’ll miss you every moment I’m with him, she taps.
“Hopefully not every moment.” Isbe grins again. Then she lets out a big sigh.
No reason for the dramatic sighs. Everything will be normal, Aurora taps.
“Well then,” Isbe announces. “I was going to share some gossip. I’ve just overheard that Prince Philip and his younger brother, Edward, were spotted on the road two days ago at Tristesse Pass, along with their retinue. Which means they should be arriving sooner than we thought. Most likely by tonight. In time for your birthday!”
Aurora gasps, a sound that’s almost inaudible. Her entire body buzzes with all the hectic energy of a chicken coop. Her planned marriage to Prince Philip is supposed to cement an important alliance between the kingdoms of Deluce and Aubin. Deluce has wealth, Aubin has military. The idea is that together they can stop the threat of the last living faerie queen, Malfleur.
If the rumors are true, that is. Word has it Malfleur has been building up her army using secret techniques unknown to the rest of the world, in addition to practicing levels of magic not seen among the fae in centuries. Just thinking about it gives Aurora a chill.
LaMorte is the only kingdom ruled by a faerie anymore. It used to be that all the positions of power were held by the fae, but that was long ago. Aurora’s grandfather was part of the wave of human monarchs pushing the fae out, even as the faeries’ magic waned. Now most of Deluce’s aristocracy is human, though a faerie duchess or baron remains here and there. And while the fae allow females to govern alone (they pretty much have to, since female faeries generally outlive male faeries by many decades), humans do not. A human princess must marry to become a queen.
Aurora knows how important her upcoming wedding really is to the safety of her kingdom. But that doesn’t mean she can’t secretly hope that it will be more than tactical—that the prince will be her true love, and with that love, her whole life will change. That, like Ombeline from the story, she will finally be freed.
The veil on Aurora’s hennin dances wildly in the open air. Because of her lack of touch, she doesn’t feel pain. So while the princess can tell that it’s very cold out, the chill doesn’t really bother her. It’s just . . . there, a dim awareness like a heartbeat.
It’s always windy up on the palace wall walks, where she and Isbe have come to look out for the banners of the approaching princes and their retinue. Through the crenellated parapet, Aurora can see the vast expanse of the royal village and the lands to the south and west sides, the mouth of the strait to the northeast, all covered in the soft drape of evening. It’s especially blustery at this time of year and this time of day, when the sun has worn down to a crimson paper cut slicing sea from sky.
The wind is helpful, anyway, to her sister. It carries information—sounds and smells that tell her who is coming and how high the tides are, what will be served for dinner, and which of the soldiers guarding the front gates have bedded which of the housemaids.
Tonight, Isbe’s face is alive with curiosity, and for what is probably the millionth time, Aurora wishes her sister could see herself, even for an instant. That she could witness the way joy and sadness write themselves so boldly in her expressions. How uncontained her emotions seem.
As different as they are—Isbe’s features hard and wild and pale next to Aurora’s rosiness, her sun-colored hair and gentle curves—Aurora likes to believe that something invisible, something deep inside each of them, is connected, forged from the same fire.
Isbe races ahead along the wall walk, which is lit by torches ensconced in the iron brackets atop the seven cupola-covered drum towers. Her form flickers between light and shadow as she passes by each of the parapet’s teeth. She is already climbing the stones of the southeast tower—the king’s tower, which is also the best vantage point—by the time Aurora reaches the wide southern wall.
Aurora wants to call for Isbe to wait, but of course she can’t. She just hopes they won’t get caught sneaking around up here. Four years ago, the plague killed both of her parents, King Henri and Queen Amélie. Since then, the council’s role has grown from keeping careful watch to issuing suffocating rules. And it’s even worse lately.
Because Aurora’s sixteenth birthday is tomorrow and the wedding to Philip will soon follow, the council has essentially kept her under lock and key within the lonely palace walls, even though Isbe is completely free to roam the ample grounds, romp through the royal forest, ride horses, snack on random pickings from the lower kitchen, and pretty much do anything she pleases. Everyone acts as if Aurora might collapse under a stray breeze—since she paid the tithe of touch as a child, she is constantly in danger of getting hurt and not realizing it. And it’s true she has burned herself too many times to be allowed in the kitchens or too close to the fire. She has embarrassing scars on her knees from various tumbles as a child that led to scratches that bled for hours before she noticed them.
Following Isbe’s disappearing form, Aurora hurries to the king’s tower and tries to get a foothold in the still-wet stone. Before she gets very far, the familiar voices of the council members float over her head. The king’s tower holds one of their meeting rooms, and with its jutting, thinly paned oriel windows, it is one of the easiest rooms to spy on, if you happen to be on the roof.
Aurora pauses, listening to what sounds like a heated exchange. It’s very rare for the council to be meeting this late, particularly when such important guests are expected at any moment.
She tucks her dress and robes around her legs and crouches just beneath the oriel, peering in.
“They were supporters of Malfleur, I’m sure of it,” one of the men is saying.
Another scoffs. “Nothing but peasants and petty thieves. A horrible accident, and that is all.”
“It’s not the time to analyze the attack! We are in a state of emergency!” cries another, slamming down hard on a table.
A horrible accident? Attack? A state of emergency? What could possibly have happened? She inches slightly closer to the base of the window, straining to hear.
“This is more than an attack; this is a political maneuver. It’s a diplomatic crisis.”
“He’s right. It’s an act . . . an act of war. This has to be Malfleur’s doing. And without Aubin on our side, we are sunk.”
“Aubin still needs us as much as we need them. Their royal coffers are dry—we know that. Their precious war overseas has seen to that.”
“Before we come to any conclusions, we must reconcile ourselves to the murder of the two princes and decide upon swift and immediate action.”
At this, Aurora loses her grip and falls several feet to the damp stone floor of the wall walk. The fall doesn’t hurt—of course—but the news rings loud and harsh in her ears. The murder of the two princes.
It cannot be true.
Philip is no longer coming to marry her.
He and his brother, Edward, are dead.
She must have misunderstood. She needs to go in there and confront them, find out the truth. But even as she thinks that, she realizes how silly it sounds. Aurora, confronting the council? It’s unheard of. In the past she’s made vain attempts to write her thoughts down with ink on vellum, copying the beautiful script found in the books she loves to read. But the council members have only responded with blank, befuddled stares. In fact, most of them are illiterate and find it simply unimaginable that a woman could have taught herself to both read and write.
The murder of the two princes. The words keep repeating themselves, tumbling over one another in her mind even as she scrambles up the tower toward her sister. She wishes once again that she could call out to Isbe. But with no voice, she is left to climb, higher this time, desperate to find her, to convey what she’s heard.
The dome is slick and cold. She reaches the top of the tower and clings to the curved roof, inching her way toward the outer-facing side. She thinks she sees Isbe, just around the—
A gust of wind blows Aurora’s veil into her face. As she tries to shake it free, she senses her shoe has become heavy. It must have soaked up some of the unmelted snow, which means . . .
Her foot slips.
She gasps, her balance giving way, then flails, losing her grip with one hand. Panic flies through her lungs, leaving her mouth in a silent scream.
The murder of the two princes, the wind sings back to her, and she knows. She is going to fall.
A shout pierces the darkness.
Isbe’s face, torch lit, hovers above her. She has firmly caught Aurora’s sleeve and yanked her back against the tower. “Aurora . . . I heard you. I’m here!”
Aurora’s pulse races in her throat. She is shaking, marveling at her sister’s ability to hear even the slightest skid of shoe against ice.
Slowly they move to safety, one chapped hand before the other, until they are just above the wall walk, where Isbe leaps down first and reaches up to assist Aurora, whose heart is still pounding so powerfully she fears she may faint.
But as her dizziness clears, all she can think is what she must communicate to Isbe. The princes.
Both of them. Murdered.
“Oi! What are you doing up here?” Two night guards are approaching.
Aurora frantically tries to grab Isbe’s hand, but the guards rush them from either side and yank them apart.
“Told youse to stay off here!” one guard grumbles.
“Let us go!” Isbe cries as they are both dragged roughly down the steps.
“Escaped yer cage again, eh?” says the other to Aurora. She’s thankful that Isbe can’t see the sneer on his pocked face.
Isbe juts out her chin. “We were just trying to—”
“That’s ’bout enough of that,” one growls as they haul the girls through a passageway, up another set of stairs, and into the king’s tower proper, where they are presented before the twelve gathered councilmen and -women.
“Sorry to barge in. But we caught ’em climbing the towers again. Princess almost took a bad drop,” the older and fatter of the guards says. “This one was scampering up and down like a goat.”
Before Aurora can so much as shake her head in protest, Isbe clears her throat, squeezing Aurora’s hand tight. “He’s right. It was all my fault, not Aurora’s.”
Meanwhile, Jules de Villeroy, the chancellor, tugs at his collar. “This is a most, most inopportune moment.”
Aurora desperately taps into Isbe’s hand. The princes. Dead. Philip’s dead. She can’t tell if her sister has registered the message.
Old hotheaded Humphrey bangs his fist on the arm of his chair. “Dammit! Endangering the princess? At a time like this? I’ve had enough! All of our plans. The whole alliance . . . up in smoke in a moment if something were to—” He cuts himself off and takes a breath. “If we don’t handle that one,” he finishes, pointing fiercely at Isbe, “then I personally will.”
Aurora looks nervously around the room at the council: ten men and two women. The men all have bare, protruding foreheads—the style of the time, though Aurora can’t understand why—and wear high collars and deep frowns. The women, both financial attendants, look as shriveled as the pickled fish Aurora has watched servants eating in the kitchen. She can’t remember a time when these women were young.
These are the men and women who have, over the past four years, become the unwanted surrogate caretakers for her and Isbe. She knows none of them has any true affection for her. She is a mere item to be bartered.
It’s even worse for Isbe, of course. She is no princess, and she will be eighteen soon. So far, despite the council’s best attempts, no one has been interested in marrying the dead king’s blind bastard daughter.
Lord Ferdinand pushes his chair back from the table. Aurora can’t help but notice that the corner of the rotund man’s red robe is stained with either mud or gravy—more likely the latter, given how little he’s known to venture past the castle walls. “With the permission of my fellow councilmen,” Ferdinand says, “I see it fit we pursue our original plans regarding Isabelle immediately.”
“Plans?” Isbe asks as Aurora’s heart starts to beat faster.
“You are to be sent to a convent in the district of Isolé,” says one of the stern old clerics at the back of the room.
“But . . . for how long?” Isbe croaks.
“For the remainder of your life,” says the cleric.
“No!” Isbe tries to lunge forward; however, one of the guards keeps his fat hand around her arm, holding her back.
Aurora feels like she’s been strangled. Isbe. Leaving. Forever. It’s too much. Her knees are beginning to give out. Her sister shouldn’t have said anything. She shouldn’t have opened her big mouth, trying to be brave, trying to protect Aurora, like always.
Look where it’s gotten her now.
Maximilien, one of the younger members and perhaps the kindest of the council despite being the chief of military, nods. “We were going to wait until after the wedding, but we might as well make haste. Aurora’s safety and protection are of utmost importance.”
Aurora doesn’t know whether to be furious or devastated or simply afraid. Isolé lies at the southernmost point of Deluce, near the border of Corraine. That’s miles and miles from the palace!
She fumbles for Isbe’s hand again, but her sister pulls away.
“Why?” she blurts out. “Why are we to be parted if the wedding is no longer happening?” So her palm did understand Aurora’s hasty message.
Maximilien frowns. “I can see you have been listening in where you were not invited. Nevertheless . . .” He turns to Aurora. “You both may as well know that Princes Philip and Edward of Aubin are dead.”
Aurora’s heart plummets into her stomach like a bucket dropped down a well. Hearing it announced so bluntly is even harder the second time.
“I ask again,” Isbe says, jutting out her chin. “How will Aurora marry if the two princes of Aubin are dead?”
“Luckily,” another council member replies, “there is a third.”
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