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Quiver
Stephanie Spinner
Alfred A. Knopf, 240 pages

Quiver
Stephanie Spinner
Stephanie Spinner was born in Davenport, Iowa, and grew up in Rockaway Beach, New York. She went to college in Bennington, Vermont, moved to New York City, and took a job in publishing. Leaving that, she traveled around much of the world and decided to study Tibetan Buddhist painting in Boulder, Colorado. After several years, she took another publishing job, this time in children's books, becoming an editor. Some time later she was encouraged to write. Her first book was Aliens for Breakfast, co-written with Jonathan Etra.

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Amal El-Mohtar

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I have a weakness for wrapping paper. I, as a wrapper of gifts, am hopelessly inept, to the extent that seeing a well-wrapped bit of present inspires in me a quiet sort of awe. I share this with you because Quiver was given to me gift-wrapped, and I want clearly to establish that I, as a reviewer, am unfortunately not as entirely free from prejudice as I perhaps ought to be. That being said...

Quiver is set in a mythic, ancient Greece, where centaurs are as much of a threat to people as the boars sent by vengeful gods. It tells the story of Atalanta, who, cast out at birth for being a girl instead of the son her father hoped for, is suckled by a she-bear and raised by hunters. She takes a vow of chastity, devotes her life to the goddess Artemis, and, at sixteen, is reckoned by many to be "the swiftest mortal alive," as well as a brilliant huntress. She longs for glory and, in search of it, takes part in the Calydonian Boar Hunt alongside such other heroes as Jason, leader of the Argonauts, and Meleager, son of King Oeneus. The renown she wins during the Hunt brings her to the attention of King Iasus, who, aging and childless, reveals himself to be her father, and decides to reclaim the daughter he cast out years before in order to force her to marry and produce an heir. This being anathema to a devotee of Artemis, she agrees, but only on the condition that her suitor be able to beat her in a foot-race, or die.

This is an excellent book. Re-writing a myth is a tricky business, requiring a sure voice, deft hand, and intimate knowledge of the myth in question. It's possible for retellings of old stories to rely too heavily on some explicitly modern spin at which a reader can quirk her brow and say, "oh, how clever," without being too deeply impressed. Sometimes, a retelling of a myth consists in simply translating it from its original context into a present-day setting without any further attempt at innovation. What Stephanie Spinner undertakes is certainly more difficult to pull off effectively: she preserves the mythic setting and tells the story through Atalanta's first-person narration, remaining faithful to the constants of the myth, and even includes further details on the different versions of it in an author's note at the end. She strikes an effective balance between narrative, myth and history, and succeeds in evoking an atmosphere ripe with magic and prophecy that captivated me immediately.

I found much in this book to surprise and delight me. Spinner's prose is effortlessly smooth, subtle and confident, and the plot doesn't so much move as flow seamlessly along; the story is sparsely and simply told, occasionally broken up by snatches of wry behind-the-scenes commentary offered by Artemis, Apollo, Eros and Aphrodite; all of her characters, no matter how minor, are skilfully drawn, and step onto the page fully developed. The feeling overall is ultimately less that of a full-length novel than of a glimpse into a Greece of myth and magic, and of one startling heroine's place within it. Regardless, it doesn't lose anything for that, and remains an immensely satisfying read -- a fact I maintain and stand by despite its wrapping paper being some four years gone now, and that even its dust jacket is beginning to show signs of wear. I highly recommend Quiver.

Copyright © 2006 Amal El-Mohtar

Amal has a history of reading anything with pages. Now, she reads stuff online, too. She sometimes does other things, but that's mainly it.


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