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Shadow Spinner

Shadow Spinner

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Shadow Spinner

3/5 (159 évaluations)
225 pages
4 heures
Oct 18, 2011


Every night, Shahrazad begins a story. And every morning, the Sultan lets her live another day -- providing the story is interesting enough to capture his attention. After almost one thousand nights, Shahrazad is running out of tales. And that is how Marjan's story begins....
It falls to Marjan to help Shahrazad find new stories -- ones the Sultan has never heard before. To do that, the girl is forced to undertake a dangerous and forbidden mission: sneak from the harem and travel the city, pulling tales from strangers and bringing them back to Shahrazad. But as she searches the city, a wonderful thing happens. From a quiet spinner of tales, Marjan suddenly becomes the center of a more surprising story than she ever could have imagined.
Oct 18, 2011

À propos de l'auteur

Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham. ‘Eve Green’ was her first novel which went on to be a best-selling success. ‘Oystercatchers’ and ‘Witch Light’ followed. ‘The Silver Dark Sea’, her most recent novel, was published in 2012.

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Aperçu du livre

Shadow Spinner - Susan Fletcher

For Jean Karl, who has taught me so much about story

I could not have written this book without the generous help of many people! Dr. Abbas Milani read the manuscript twice—once by candlelight during a power outage. Besides catching my mistakes and answering multiple queries, he made many suggestions that greatly enhanced the book. Zohré Bullock graciously regaled me with tea, coffee, and cookies while answering my interminable questions. I am also very much indebted to the wisdom of Dr. John Stewart, Sue Chism, Will Earhart, Eric Kimmel, Susan Ash, Jackie Rose, Eloise and Bill McGraw, the members of my two critique groups, Susan Strauss, Becky Huntting, and, of course, Jean Karl.


Chapter 1: Within the Harem Doors

Chapter 2: Shahrazad

Chapter 3: The Wish

Chapter 4: Shahrazad’s Cripple

Chapter 5: She Needs You

Chapter 6: The Terrace

Chapter 7: Crazy Zaynab

Chapter 8: On the Wrong Side

Chapter 9: The Bazaar

Chapter 10: A Name with Two Words

Chapter 11: İ Always Find Out

Chapter 12: İ Forbid İt!

Chapter 13: She Should Have Been Strong

Chapter 14: The Oil Jar

Chapter 15: Just a Friend

Chapter 16: No Way İn

Chapter 17: Like Princess Budur

Chapter 18: Prisoner

Chapter 19: The Secret Token

Chapter 20: Abu Muslem

Chapter 21: A Desperate Plan

Chapter 22: The Sultan

Chapter 23: The Green His

Author’s Note

Chapter 1

Within the Harem Doors


My auntie Chava used to say to me, "What’s going to become of you, Marjan?" She would usually say this when I had done something foolish—tipped over the olive jar, maybe, or daydreamed over the coals until the lentils were burnt. But I knew she meant it in another way, too, because I would probably never marry. No one would want a bride with one foot maimed and turned askew. Even though I could run fast and carry a pot on my head and cook a lamb stew as well as other girls, my foot would be seen as bad luck. An ill omen. So all my life I would have to live on the charity of my relatives—except that I had no relatives anymore. Auntie Chava was not my real aunt, and she and Uncle Eli were old and had fallen on hard times. No one would have any use for me when they were gone.

So Auntie Chava would cast up her gaze and sigh and ask, "What’s going to become of you, Marjan?"

You can never really know what’s going to happen to a person in this life. What actually became of me, no one would have guessed.

The first time I set foot inside the Sultan’s harem, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Shahrazad.

Shahrazad was my hero. She had offered to marry the Sultan when he was killing all his wives. Marry one at night, kill her the next morning—that’s what he did.

Until Shahrazad.

Keep your eyes downcast, Marjan, and make sure your hair is covered, Auntie Chava warned me as we passed through the gates to the palace and crossed the outer courtyard. There are women in there in all manner of dress and undress—but here you keep your modesty.

I clutched my long veil, holding it snug beneath my chin so that only the moon of my face would show. The sun glared blindingly on the marble floor and glittered in the fountain. I looked for the harem door, but the shadows that shrouded the far side of the courtyard were blue-black and opaque.

Though I was eager to see the harem, I was a little bit scared, too. I had heard the tales of fountains running red with blood after the Sultan discovered his first wife with another man. He had slain her and all of her servants and slaves—every grown woman in the harem, save for his own mother. The Sultan vowed then and there that no woman would ever betray him again. That’s why he started killing off his wives.

Auntie Chava stopped now in the shadows before a pair of high wooden doors. She spoke to the guards. They looked stern in their high helmets, with daggers and gleaming scimitars hanging from their belts. It had been many years since Auntie Chava had come here—not since Uncle Eli had lost his fortune when a merchant ship went down. Before that, she used to come often to the harem, selling jewels and silks from distant lands. But now, though I had begged her to let me come, I was having second thoughts. Third thoughts, when the doors groaned and boomed heavily behind, shutting us into a dim hallway with two barefoot harem eunuchs. Once a woman enters those gates, she never comes out alive, was what they said of the Sultan’s harem. And mostly, that was true.

Still, we had come only to sell things to the harem women, so they would let us out. For certain, Auntie Chava had assured me.

I could not see well at first, for my eyes had not yet adjusted to the sudden darkness. Walking carefully to hide my limp, I followed the shape of Auntie Chavas floor-length veil as she followed one of the eunuchs. Cool air washed over me—a relief from the heat of the sun. Soon, I heard a splash of water and smelled a delicious intermingling of flowers and sandalwood and cloves. By the time I could well make out my surroundings, we had passed through another gate and into a courtyard.

It was not an open court, though it seemed so. The domed roof looked almost as high as the sky. Honeyed light sifted in through carved wooden screens, gilding the walls and floors. Light danced in the spray of a fountain, shimmered like liquid silver on the surface of the pool. Birds flitted among fruit trees and blossoming bushes, which filled the air with their sweet smells. The floors were inlaid with jewel-bright tiles and spread with fine woolen carpets embroidered in crimson and gold.

I looked for the rusty tinge of bloodstains on the fountains tiles but, save for their colored borders, they were white as a turnip’s flesh.

The eunuch settled himself upon a cushion in a corner; I sneaked a furtive peak at him. He was dark-skinned and, except for his fine silk robes, looked much as other eunuchs I had seen—smooth-faced and heavy about the hips.

Auntie Chava shed her veil, then opened her bundle, spread out the cloth, and began arranging her wares on it. They were her very own treasures from the time when she had been wealthy: jeweled rings and bracelets and neck chains, lengths of satin and damask and silk. Uncle Eli had not wanted her to sell them but, We must pay the taxes, Auntie Chava said. I looked at her now, to see if she seemed sorry to let her things go. She set them out briskly. But I saw her hands linger for a moment on a brooch of lapis lazuli before she laid it gently down.

The room was silent, save for the splash and gurgle of the fountain. But soon, as if we had set off some unheard signal, there came the pattering of bare feet on tile. There was a whispering of voices, a jingling of bracelets, a rustling of cloth.

I could picture her then—Shahrazad—slim and regal, moving gracefully across the court as if she held an invisible water jar balanced upon her head. She would not be overeager; not greedy. She would greet Auntie Chava and then turn to me, and something in my eyes would hold her. Would she sense that I, too, made an art of telling old tales? Would she know, somehow, that she was my inspiration? That I wanted to be just like her?

Marjan! Get your mind out of the mist and put out your wares!

Hastily, I took off my veil, untied my bundle, and set out Auntie Chavas jewels and ribbons and silks. I heard her muttering under her breath, "What’s going to become of you, Marjan?"

And then here they came, the harem women, gliding through the archways into the courtyard—their bright-hued gowns fluttering, their voices softly chattering—for all the world like a flight of beautiful birds. They gathered around us, enveloped us in a thick, sweet cloud of perfume—trying on bracelets and rings, remarking upon the color of a stone, the sheen of a length of silk. The jewels caught the light and cast it in dizzying flecks across the floor and walls. Though none of the women were as naked as Auntie Chava would have had me believe, many wore alluring garments that revealed bare arms and throats and the curved shapes of breasts and hips.

I searched their faces for Shahrazad, for I felt, though I had never seen her, that I would know her. Many of these women would be relatives of the Sultan—distant aunts or nieces who had been widowed or divorced by their husbands and had nowhere else to go. Because they were not virgins, the formerly married relatives were in no danger of being wedded to the Sultan. Other harem women were slaves—though few were young and beautiful, as harem slaves usually are. Before he married Shahrazad, the Sultan had used up all the young and beautiful virgins as wives.

Still, I noticed five or six young women—new, no doubt, since Shahrazad had stopped the killings. They were dazzling, the young women. But they came too fast and eager, snatching at Auntie Chavas treasures. None was Shahrazad, I felt certain.

I answered their questions, telling how this length of satin came from Samarkand, how that bracelet was of hammered Indian copper. Soon everything was taken; there was nothing for me to do but gather up our bundle cloths and wait. Auntie Chava would do the bargaining. It would take time, I knew.

It was then, while I was kneeling to fold the cloths, that I saw the children. They must have come in behind the women, and I had been so caught up in the fever of trade that I hadn’t noticed. But now they drew slowly near, staring at me with bold curiosity. There were a dozen or so of them, ranging, I guessed, from three to eight years old. Harem children. Some belonged to the harem women; others were orphans of distant relations of the Sultan; still others were children or grandchildren of favored slaves.

I worried about the girls.

A pet gazelle trotted up behind one of the children—she was six or seven years old, I guessed. The gazelle nudged her hand; she scratched behind its ears, not moving her gaze from me.

What’s wrong with your foot? the gazelle girl asked.

I sat back on my heels and briskly pulled my gown to cover my crippled foot.

"What’s wrong with it? It looks strange."

Nothing, I said shortly.

One little boy crept forward, shyly reaching out to touch my sleeve, then pulled quickly back. He held his nose and pointed at me. The other children giggled, but neither backed away nor unfastened their gazes from my face.

Likely they had never seen a girl not decked out in silk and damask, not bathed and scrubbed raw, not brushed and perfumed until she gleamed and reeked of flowers. They looked at me as if I were some outlandish creature. I might as well have been an Abyssinian, or a jinn. Yet to me, they were likewise strange.

Wondrous strange.

Slowly, I stretched out my hand to touch the silken sleeve of the boy who had touched mine. But he jerked back, and they all moved, in a flock, away. I wished I had some sweets to tempt them to eat out of my hand, like the sparrows that nested in the pomegranate tree in Uncle Eli’s courtyard.

But I had other lures.

I glanced at Auntie Chava, still deep in money dealings with the harem women. This could take forever.

Have you heard, I asked the children, the tale of the fisherman and the jinn?

Several solemn heads shook no, but the girl with the gazelle piped up, I have! The jinn was going to kill him, but the fisherman tricked it.

Yes, I said, but did you know about the talking fish?

She narrowed her eyes warily, shook her head.

Well, the jinn told the fisherman to cast his net again. And it came up with four fishes in it: one white, one red, one blue, one yellow.

There’s no such thing as a blue fish, the girl said.

"Well yes there is because this one was. Only, they were magical fishes. Because when the fisherman sold them to the Sultan, and the Sultan gave them to his cook, and the cook began to fry them, the wall cracked open with a boom! And a beautiful lady came in through the crack. And then the fishes lifted up their heads and talked to her."

I held my breath then, waiting. It is not good, when telling tales, to tell too much too soon. You must cast your net, like the fisherman in the story, then wait to see what swims in.

The children watched me, eyes wide. At last, just when I feared that I would lose them, the gazelle girl said, "What did the fish . . . say?"

And then I knew I had them.

I spun the old tale carefully, meting out mystery upon mystery and not solving one until after the next had been posed. I spoke softly, then loudly, then softly again, so that the children crept ever nearer. Soon they were ringed all about me, touching me. I breathed in their sweet perfume. One little girl laid her head on my knee and looked straight up into my face. A boy clutched the hem of my gown as he sucked his thumb. The gazelle folded its long legs and nuzzled at my hands. And the tale took on a life of its own, as tales sometimes do, enfolding me in the world of it, opening up to show me particulars I had never seen before in all the times I had told it.

"And the sorceress lost no time, but betook herself to the shores of that lake, where she sprinkled the waters on the sand. And she spoke some words over the fish—bal-anka balinka baloo! And the fishes jumped up and turned into men and women and children! One of them had hair that curled just like yours, I said to the gazelle girl, and was wearing a silver bracelet like this one, and a gown of blue silk just like the one you re wearing . . . I stopped, furrowed my brow at her. Are you certain you’ve never been a fish?"

A muffled laugh sounded from outside the circle of children; I looked up sharply. My eyes met the gaze of a girl a little older than me—fourteen or fifteen, I guessed. She was dressed more simply than the women, but I knew by the drape and sheen of her yellow silk gown that the fabric was exceedingly fine. Her eyes, clear gray and almond-shaped, were serious, even before the dimpled smile faded from her mouth.

Go on, she said. Please.

It was a request—not a demand—and yet I could tell by some quality of her voice that she was accustomed to being obliged.

Who was she?

I darted a look at where the other women were still bargaining with Auntie Chava. They showed no deference to this girl, nor even seemed to notice her.

Flustered, I did go on, but I was out of the tale now, fixed firmly in the now of the harem. I finished quickly; the children begged for more.

Not now, little ones, the gray-eyed girl said. Go and play!

They scattered like a covey of partridges and disappeared through an arched doorway, trailing echoes of talk and laughter. The gazelle hesitated, then bounded after.

Now the gray-eyed girl drew near; hastily, I clambered to my feet. She was not tall, I saw, barely taller than I. Her face was lovely—square-jawed, with a full, wide mouth and plump cheeks that dimpled when she smiled. Her hair, a thick, glossy braid, lay draped over her shoulder. But she seemed unaware of her beauty. There was no smugness about this girl, no fluttering. Do you know other tales? she asked.

I nodded, not trusting my voice. I knew many old tales; I collected them. I had trained myself to fix a tale in memory, so I would never forget. But. . . who was this girl?

Wait here, she said.

I stood awkwardly, watching as the girl spoke with Auntie Chava and then with another of the older women. Suddenly, I wanted to go to Auntie Chava, to have her put her arm around me, to leave this place and go home. But the girl had said, Wait here.

Auntie Chava glanced at me and said something to the girl. Their voices were soft; I couldn’t hear. Then the girl came back.

Come with me, she said.

I stood rooted. I looked beseechingly back at Auntie Chava, who nodded as if to reassure me.

Come, the girl said.

I looked again at Auntie Chava; she made a shooing motion

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159 évaluations / 11 Avis
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Avis des lecteurs

  • (5/5)
    This book surprised me by how well it drew me in. I think that many of my boy readers would be drawn into this. I enjoy this type of historical fiction anyway, but was impressed by how Fletcher connects characters. The “Lessons for Life and Storytelling” both kept readers thinking about what was to come and gave great hints on how to tell stories; a sort of how-to on the writing process in some ways. Beyond the adventure in the story itself, there is a fine morality tale and serious life-changing decisions being made. As the story of Marjan’s foot becomes known to the reader, it gives perspective into the lives that girls live here in the US.
  • (5/5)
    This is a wonderful book that takes you straight to the streets of Persia. Marjan is a captivating character and the stories that she tells and the story that she is entangled in are fantastic! Adults and kids will love this story.
  • (5/5)
    Every evening, the brave queen of Persia, Shahrazad, goes into the Sultan's rooms and begins a weave of words, hoping to entice the Sultan to let her live another night so she can continue her story. But Shahrazad has a big problem: She is running out of stories. With a delicate stroke of luck, a cripple girl, Marjan, ventures into the harem with her Aunt to sell various wares. As her Aunt is selling things, Marjan entertains some of the children with a story. Unbeknownst to Marjan, Shahrazad's sister, Dunyazad, has heard her telling the story. Marjan is taken directly to Shahrazad and asked to recount the story. The tale keeps the queen alive another night and the queen decides to keep Marjan. As her helper, Marjan has to go into the city and look for tales that the Sultan has not heard. She has several close calls with the Kathun, the voracious female who rules the harem and who is set against Shahrazad. Finally the Sultan proclaims that he will stop killing women every night. Unfortunately, Marjan is still in danger and has to be taken out of the city along with Zaynab, an old woman who assisted Marjan. Since my mom suggested this book to me, I thought that it would be boring. It was quite the opposite. I was intrigued from the very beginning to the end. I loved the byplay between the characters and the thrilling escapes from various places. One thing that didn't please me was the ending. The ending was abrupt; the story just kind of stopped and left you wondering what happened next in Marjan's life. But all in all, this book was amazing and I have read and re-read it many times
  • (4/5)
    Each night, Shahrazad begins a story and every morning, the women of the harem wait to see if she emerges alive, to know if her story was captivating enough to win her another night to continue the tale. A poor crippled servant girl and her Aunt venture to the palace to sell their wares in the harem. While there, she entertains the children with a story. It is one Shahrazad's sister suspects the Sultan has not heard. Our heroine, Marjan, is whisked into the folds of the harem to retell the tale to Scherezade who, after almost 1000 nights, is running dangerously low on tales to tell.It falls to Marjan to help Shahrazad discover new stories. To this end, she must sneak from the harem and travel the city, pulling tales from strangers and bringing them back to Shahrazad. The fate of all women in the Sultan's kingdom hang on her success.This was a good YA book, and one that I enjoyed sharing with the sixth grade girls in a literary circle at my son's school. I had the dubious pleasure of explaining what a eunich is...lots of titters and giggles on that one! I was appalled that they did not know the story of Shahrazad, but when I mentioned a few of the stories, at least they had heard of them (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, etc).I was a bit miffed at the ending, which was abrupt, and I also felt it took away from Shahrazad's ultimate victory, but it was a great discussion book and the girls liked it too.
  • (4/5)
    Shadow Spinner is a fun 'middle grader' book set in Ancient Persia as a new twist on the story of 1001 Arabian Nights. In the original story of 1001 Arabian Nights, Shaharazad is the Sultan's wife who is keeping herself alive by telling the Sultan a story every night and ending each night without finishing the story so that the Sultan's curiosity will be aroused and he will keep her alive another day to finish the story.In this retelling, we visit the world of Sultans, harems, palaces and slaves as seen through the eyes of Marjan, a crippled young girl (pre/early teens?). Marjan is visiting the palace one day to sell wares and while there she starts to tell a story to some of the children. Sharazad has been running out of new stories to tell the Sultan so upon hearing Marjan's storytelling, she pulls Marjan into the harem to help come up with stories.The plot takes a few twists and turns as the Sultan recognizes Marjan's story and wants to hear the rest of it but Marjan doesn't know the second part of the story. There's a lot of fun intrigue and revelation as Marjan works with Shaharazad to find the ending to the story and to unravel a few mysteries along the way.The format and tone of this book were a lot of fun. Each chapter begins with a short blurb labeled "Lessons for Life and Storytelling." Many of these introductory segments are profoundly thought provoking. They act as a kind of philosophical meditation on life and the impact and importance that stories can have on life.For a fairly short and simple book, I was pleasantly surprised at the fun developments of interesting characters and intriguing plot. There were some points that were predictable but others that were uniquely unexpected. I haven't read the original 1001 Arabian Nights so I can't speak directly as to how it compares. It does evoke at least a sense of Ancient Persia and I had fun getting into the layers of myth and storytelling that Shaharazad (and others) used to present their messages.****4 out of 5
  • (3/5)
    This book is based off of myth of Shaharazad (sp?). It's written for young adults, one I'd had on my shelf but never read before. The plot and the characters are both very well done, but since the style is meant for like seventh graders I wouldn't call it amazing.
  • (5/5)
    Loved it. This author can use words to create the smell of the market place, the sensations of being blindfolded and carried, and help you listen to thngs you cannot see. A wonderful sensory author.
  • (4/5)
    Shahrazad is running out of stories . . . and out of time. She is desperate so when her sister overhears a young girl, Marjan, telling a story in a market - Marjan is brought to the palace to tell Shahrazad the story. Unfortunately Marjan doesn't know the ending so in a life threatening move Marjan sneaks out of the palace in order to learn the ending to the story and save Shahrazad's life.
  • (4/5)
    Marjan a crippled orphan is taken as a servant into the Sultan's harem. She aids Shahrazad in new stories to placate the Sultan and save the queen's life.
  • (5/5)
    A riveting tale about a girl living the exciting story of 101 nights-the cruel sultan that killed his wives at sunset until one brave wife keeps him from killing her with her exotic tales-but the wife is running out of stories! Can a crippled girl find a story in time to save the Sultan's wife?
  • (5/5)
    Another kids book. Another GOOD kids book. You might recall the framing story of "1001 Nights". A Sultan is killing off the wives in his harem every night. That is, until a clever woman named Shahrazad tells the Sultan a fascinating tale and he lets her live another day. And the next day she tells another tale and is spared once again. And again, and again. Until after one thousand and one nights of storytelling, the Sultan calls off his killing spree. An exciting little framing device. But can you imagine what it would have been like to be Sharhazad? To have your life and those women waiting their turn depending on your evening's performance? This tale is set when Sharazad is in the 980s of her ordeal. She's running out of stories and needs some help. Through a twist of fate, a servant girl named Marjan--a budding storyteller herself--is called upon to help the effort. It's a great book which not only had an interesting plot, but also touched a chord in my writer's soul. If my daughter doesn't want it for herself, I'm going to put it on my shelf.--J.