The Spin by Rebecca Lisle
Possibly one of the coolest covers about at the mo, which I know should have no bearing on the story but I’m still going to ooh and aah over it 🙂
Stormy is an orphan, and as such he can look forward to a career spent scrubbing away in the kitchens of the academy for Spitfyre training, dreaming of the magnificent flying, firebreathing horses the students all ride. As he’s out tending the compost heap though, he’s confronted by an escaped convict and his life begins to change. He’s suddenly promoted and gets to spend all his time amongst the Spitfyres, but there are secrets afoot and it’s almost impossible to find anything out and who to trust when you do. Can Stormy weather (sorry) the lies, deceit and backstabbing, or will his love of the glorious Spitfyres not prove to be enough?
This was, for me, a half and half book. I found equal things to love and get frustrated by whilst reading, which was a shame for a book I’d been excited to read for a while (and for such a rockin’ cover).
So, the not-quite-as-hoped-for first. Despite some great characters, even my favourite Al suffers from the one element to this book that I couldn’t get on with: the secrecy. Sometimes an author will keep you guessing, will keep you and the main character wondering what all the secrets everyone keeps hiding are and why they need to stay secret. Sometimes though, instead of ratcheting up the tension and keeping the reader interested, the story swings the other way and just draws out a conspiracy furthur than it needs too. For me, The Spin spun out it’s secrecy a bit too long for my liking and possibly even scarificed other plot points for it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good conspiracy, but this one was drawn out a teeny bit too much for me. I would have liked a lot more development of Mungo’s storyline myself: an escaped prisoner with a conscience, who wouldn’t want to know more about him?!
The one other frustration for me was Stormy himself. Although I loved the other characters (especially Molly, the two doorkeepers and Al), Stormy was just too passive for me. He didn’t seem to want to solve problems for himself too much, and waited for solutions. Much as I dislike a character who just goes striding gung ho into any situation, wallowing through a plot like your proverbial hippo, I do like characters to play some part in what happens to them and it didn’t always feel like Stormy did. Things happened to him, rather than him making things happen. I didn’t hate him as a character, but I did find myself wanting to light a fire under him sometimes, to get him doing something rather than watching, waiting and sneaking all the time.
And the good! This is possibly one of the most atmospheric books I’ve read for a while. I love the setting, this busy cramped, hot kitchen at the base of the cliffs. A steep winding pathway curves up them towards the Academy, buried deep within the crags with Spitfyres flying round and about, fire shooting from their nostrils even as their wings beat the air – just gorgeous. My imagination is usually not too brilliant, but I had very clear pictures in my head throughout this book, it was quite eerie in places. I could almost hear the wind whistling round my ears when I looked over the edge of the cliffs with Stormy to where his predecessor met his doom.
I also love the Spitfyres. It’s like dragon meets horse, Pegasus meets Smaug, just a little bit awesome. As the focal point of a book, they are pretty nifty. I especially liked Stormy’s research into them – as he tended them, we learnt more about these creatures as he did and it was easy to get absorbed and want to know more.
The other characters could be pretty cool too. I’m quite fond of the cook who oversees Stormy’s work when we first meet him, who knows every item in his larder with fanatical precision, but the really interesting character for me is Al. The morose Spitfyre keeper clearly has a past to him, and Stormy spends much of the story chipping away at it, finding out why he’s always getting drunk, why he doesn’t seem to care anymore and why he’s quite content to let certain Spitfyres moulder away in thier filthy caves. It’s characters like these that kept me going – they were interesting and they made sense.
Despite the niggles I personally had with it, I would happily read this book again. Stormy, while a frustration occasionally, was a nice character and the eerieness of the setting and the fabulous Spitfyre horses more than made up for him. Perhaps not the best read then for someone who likes to get drawn along in a madcap rush of action, but certainly one who likes to get drawn into a character’s home. Especially if that home features mythical flying firebreathing beasties.
Find it here, including preview chapters