Published: February 20, 2014
Genre: Fairy Tales
I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told. Those of humble birth suffer their heartbreaks and celebrate their triumphs unnoticed by the bards, leaving no trace in the fables of their time...
And so begins Elise Dalriss's story. When she hears her great-granddaughter recount a minstrel's tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, a door Elise has long kept locked. For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered--and she is the only one left who know what actually happened so many years ago.
As the memories start to unfold, Elise is plunged back into the magnificent, opulent world behind the palace walls she left behind more than half a century ago, a labyrinth where the secrets of her real father and the mysterious fate of her mother connect to an inconceivable evil. Elise has guarded these secrets for a lifetime. Now it is time for her to tell the tale...
I can't help but feel the hand of providence a bit with this book--it is as if this is the book I was meant to read right now.
I've always been a fan of fairy tales, although I've become a bit cynical of them since I've become the mother of a daughter and have had to fight the onslaught of the Disney wave. As it is, I've been reading many of these tales to my children lately and to find one for an adult--that doesn't fall into the cesspool of erotica!--was just too good a thing to pass up.
While Beauty Slept is a re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty, a story nearly everyone knows. However, Elizabeth Blackwell has taken this tale a bit further and developed it into a skillfully written novel full of twists and turns (which is all I'm going to say about the plot!). I was quickly swept into the book and it held me through to the very last page.
The decision to have the story told through Elise's eyes was a wise one. It allowed Blackwell to create a fully human narrator and still give the "major players" of the tale an iconic feel that could place them either in the realm of reality or the world of fantasy. Elise, herself, is an excellent character. While she has had a hard life, she finds herself rising to a station she could never have imagined. She isn't perfect--and she realizes it--but she keeps the reader's attention and loyalty.
My one issue with this book--well, it is an issue with me rather than the book--is that this is so realistically written that it feels like historical fiction. Since I read more historical fiction than any other genre, I had moments early in this book where I felt a little uneasy with this book. I felt as if I should be able to anchor this to a specific place and time in history and I had to keep reminding myself that this was the stuff of fantasy. I can't blame Blackwell for this as it is my personal issue, but I would offer it just as a heads up for other fans of historical fiction who might (and should!) read this book.
There were also a few aspects of the plot that I felt could have been explored a bit more--namely, Elise's parentage. I felt that it should have had more of an impact than it did. Still, I can say that I had only very minor quibbles with this book.
This is Elizabeth Blackwell's debut novel and I don't know if she plans to continue retelling fairy tales in later books. I enjoyed While Beauty Slept so much that I hope she does, but I also think that she has a great future as a novelist and I'll be awaiting her next book, no matter what it is.
I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.