Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

I received the book While Beauty Slept for Christmas. I had asked specifically for a retelling of Sleeping Beauty--there aren't nearly as many of them as there are of other fairy tales--and I got one. (Yeah!) So I knew I'd have to move it to the top of my TBR list. :D *Despite talking about the ending in general terms, there will be minimal spoilers here.*

Plot: Elisa is a peasant girl who grows up with a sympathetic mother, a harsh father, and lots of brothers, but no sisters. One day she learns that her mother's past is somewhat colorful, and that her father is not her actual father, but a man who was willing to marry a pregnant woman who used to work as a lady in waiting in the castle. When the pox comes and claims most of her family, she leaves to follow the life her mother once did. Elise embarks on a whole new life as a maid in the castle, where she sees the sweet, sad Queen Lenore daily, and recognizes the struggle to have an heir, which leads to the banishment of the witch Millicent, and the birth of daughter the king affectionately called Beauty. The re-telling is scene through the eyes of a secondary character who has her own story including romance, upward mobility in her social circumstances, and the tragedy that eventually befalls the kingdom. 

Characters: Elise is an utterly believable and sympathetic character. You feel for her plights and root for her in every situation. The author also does an excellent job with the well-known characters from the fairy-tale. Rose, the king and queen, Flora (the only of the three fairies represented) and the evil Millicent are all well-written and given plenty of personality and motivation, but with a slightly different spin that is all the author. Basically, exactly what you want in a re-telling like this.

Writing: The writing is excellent. Though this is a somewhat long novel by most people's standards (about 550 pages) I read through it quickly and easily. The writing is such that it's effortless to just keep turning pages. I would recommend this author to anyone!

Ending: I thought the ending was very fitting for what she had already set up in the story. I will say that the major issue dealt with for the climax was somewhat anti-climatic. While it was definitely a big deal, it's not something that lends itself well to a great deal of action. That said, I still think it worked for how the story was set up. And then there was a clever plot twist at the end that made me smile. It's something most people won't see coming, and I enjoyed it. 

Issues: The only issue I had with the story is a minor one. And that is that it doesn't focus on the story of Sleeping Beauty as much as I'd like. Don't get me wrong, it is an obvious re-telling of that story, but it focuses much more on Elise's character and her trials, while the Sleeping Beauty legend, while inextricably linked with Elise, happens mostly in the background. Now, as Elise really is the main character, that's definitely not a bad thing where the book is concerned, but personally I'd really like to see a re-telling where the legend IS the main story. This doesn't by any means make it a bad book. It just took a somewhat different direction than I'd envisioned, and I would have liked it a bit better had the legend been more central. That's all. 

(In fact, I feel a bit hypocritical saying that, because the way this book was written reminds me a lot of the Kremlins series, which I wrote. So I'm definitely not bashing this. Then again, I wasn't re-telling a beloved fairy tale, so it's a little different. :D)

Overall: I would recommend this to anyone who is into fairy tale re-tellings, historical fiction, especially medieval, or Sleeping Beauty stuff in general. Overall I loved the characters and the story was engrossing, easy to read, and satisfying. I really liked it!

What's your favorite fairy tale re-telling?


  1. Thanks for this review Liesel. I think retellings are my favourite genre, but I've never heard of this one before, must add it to my wish list.