Pop Culture Princess

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

While Beauty Slept awakens you to the true magic of reading

New takes on classic fairy tales have become a genre of their own these days yet even something so familiar as the tale of Sleeping Beauty can offer up some engaging surprises in a retelling.

Such is the case with Elizabeth Blackwell's While Beauty Slept, where the main narrator is Elise, a poor farm girl who longs to leave her unhappy home and seek a position at the royal court in St. Elsip, as did her mother.

 A sad set of circumstances gives her the opportunity to do so and before long, Elise winds up being appointed as lady's maid to Queen Lenore, a lovely woman whose only sorrow is not having borne an heir to her husband King Ranolf's throne. When an unexpected pregnancy is announced(causing the king's ambitious brother Bowen to lose his spot as next in line), much joy is to be had.

However, it turns out that Leonore may owe her upcoming child to the mysterious powers of Millicent,  great aunt to the king, who deeply resents being forced into the typical royal maiden role instead pursuing a path to power. Elise notices the sway that Millicent is having over the queen and wonders just how much influence the elder woman intends to have once the child is born:

The baby turns out to be a girl and her father immediately changes the law that insists upon a male only line of ascension. However, Ranolf is furious about Millicent's control over the queen and has her banished during the birth.

When Millicent is not allowed to attend the royal baptism, her anger rises to a boiling point. She forces her way into the ceremony and announces that she is cursing the king and his family with "fear", hinting that his daughter Princess Rose may succumb to poison one day, perhaps even from the spindle of a spinning wheel.

She then vanishes for parts unknown, forcing Lenore to confess to her husband and Elise that Millicent made her swear an unholy allegiance in order than she might have a child at all. Elise is determined to protect the queen and child,even taking lessons in herbal remedies from Flora, Millicent's kindly younger sister. However, the threat of Millicent's promised revenge is an ever constant terror as the years go by:

As for Elise, she makes a number of  personal choices that put her own happiness aside, such as marrying a townsman that she truly loves, in order to remain at court.

 She does eventually marry, a relationship that has some affection but not the deep down love that Elise knew before, and it's a relationship that Princess Rose thinks is something to aspire to, having no choice but to have been betrothed to a noble man she's never met. However, there is someone that Rose falls in love with and she may have to give him up as Elise once did.

By the time Princess Rose is sixteen, a war is raging over who is to rule, headed up by Bowen. As the king and his allies find victory on the battlefield, a greater threat slips in from Millicent herself and her belated gift to her great grand niece is a most deadly one. Elise does what she can to protect the princess but at a great cost that affects nearly the entire kingdom. It will take more than true love's kiss to save the day or the realm for that matter.

This story may seem sad but it is a compelling page turner that leads to a well deserved conclusion. Elizabeth Blackwell takes a historical fiction approach to the classic tale and manages to deftly weave in the well known touchstones of the story into the plot in a graceful manner.

While the princess of the piece does get her due, Elise is the main heroine and her story would be just as interesting even without the framework of the fairy tale to uphold. In some parts, it's like a medieval Downton Abbey and you root for Elise to make the right choices in love as much you would for Anna or Daisy there:

While Beauty Slept is a thoughtful approach to this time honored tale and a charming debut from Elizabeth Blackwell, who I hope to read more from.

The book is now in paperback(and this write-up is intended to be part of the blog tour for this release) and should be a definite must read for fantasy lovers as well as readers delighted with a thumping good read. While Beauty Slept may be about the reality behind the fairy tale but it's also about the magic of true love for those brave enough to pursue it, no matter where it leads you:

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