Thursday, December 04, 2014

Heart-Shattering Sleeping Beauty Retelling Not Really About the Princess—And That's Why I Like It

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Capturing the essence of a book in a brief, but suitably intriguing plot summary is a very difficult thing to do.  Why I even attempt it, especially when a professional has already done such a beautiful job, is beyond me.  In an attempt to hang on to what little sanity I still possess, I'm going to quit trying to describe While Beauty Slept, Elizabeth Blackwell's mesmerizing new novel, and just give you the back cover blurb already:
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-grand-daughter recount a minstrel's tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, one Elise has long kept locked.  For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered—and she is the only one left who knows what actually happened so many years ago.

As the memories start to unfold, Elise is plunged back into the magnificent world behind the palace walls she left behind more than a half 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. As she understands all too well, the truth is no fairy tale.
It may seem odd to tell the "real story" behind a well-known fairy tale from the perspective of one who, as Elise herself admits, left "no trace in the fables of [her] time."  And yet, she's pretty much the perfect narrator.  Our brave, self-deprecating heroine spins a yarn that builds slowly, intensifies quickly, and culminates in a shocking, heart-shattering climax.  While the moderate pace of the novel may sound tedious, it's not at all.  It gives us time to get to know the characters—their flaws, their virtues, their complex back stories—along with the ins and outs of castle life, especially the "malevolent intrigues that hide behind courtly manners" (17).  Just in case that's not enough to keep the reader intrigued, Blackwell drops frequent bits of tantalizing, what's-yet-to-come foreshadowing, always hinting that there's more danger, more intrigue, more heartbreak just a few pages ahead.  Guess what?  She never disappoints.  Since I love the way this kind of slow, intense build-up plays with my emotions, I found While Beauty Slept enthralling from its first page to its last.  Sleeping Beauty has never been my favorite fairy tale, but this retelling isn't really about the princess, anyway.  It's about someone way, way more interesting.  No surprisingly, I adored it.    

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of To Die For by Sandra Byrd)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language; violence/gore; some sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of While Beauty Slept from the generous folks at Penguin in exchange for my participation in the book's blog tour.  Thank you!

2 comments:

  1. I didn't read the whole review because I usually only read reviews of books I've read to avoid spoilers. Anyway, I noticed two things about this that I wanted to comment on. First, the main girl's name is Elise. I feel a kinship toward her even though her name is spelled wrong, lol. Second, you gave it an A. I don't think I've ever seen you give a book an A. B+ or A-, but never an A. So, wow!

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  2. This looks lovely. I'll have to add it to my (already too long) list of books to read!

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