STARRED REVIEW
March 2014

A twist on Sleeping Beauty’s tale

By Elizabeth Blackwell
Review by

Reimagining a well-trodden fairy tale is tricky business. Rely too much on the tropes of the original story, and the plot becomes wooden, predictable and dull. Drift too far, and it’s easy to lose the point of the exercise. Few writers can pull off this balance, but with While Beauty Slept, Elizabeth Blackwell proves she’s one of them.

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Reimagining a well-trodden fairy tale is tricky business. Rely too much on the tropes of the original story, and the plot becomes wooden, predictable and dull. Drift too far, and it’s easy to lose the point of the exercise. Few writers can pull off this balance, but with While Beauty Slept, Elizabeth Blackwell proves she’s one of them.

For her take on the Sleeping Beauty story, Blackwell—a former journalist—shifts focus from the titular Beauty to Elise, an attendant to the queen when the Beauty, a girl named Rose, is born. When we first meet Elise, she’s an old woman with great-grandchildren, and the memory of the real story of Sleeping Beauty has long been buried in her mind. One night, hearing her great-grandchild tell the fantastical version of the tale, the tale of a princess who slept for a hundred years, Elise decides it’s finally time to tell the real story: the story of a queen desperate for a daughter, a treacherous aunt and the curse she brought to the palace, a war, a plague, a king striving to save his heir. Elise was at the center of it all, protecting her queen, her princess and her own chance at survival.

Blackwell succeeds at deftly weaving her own elements into a classic story without ever doing either a disservice, but there’s perhaps a more important balancing act she pulls off that makes the novel even more rewarding: the balance between Elise’s place in the fairy tale, and her own personal journey. This is not Sleeping Beauty’s story, though she is vital to it. This is Elise’s story, and not as a supporting character. It’s the story of her love life, her fears, her hopes, her mysterious past and her determination, and Blackwell makes sure it matters by rendering Elise as a powerful, vulnerable and inviting voice. The strength of Elise as a character is the reason this novel works.

Fans of novels like Wicked and lovers of fairy tales will no doubt find something new to love in While Beauty Slept, as will anyone who enjoys a layered drama rich with juicy palace intrigue.

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While Beauty Slept

While Beauty Slept

By Elizabeth Blackwell
Putnam/Amy Einhorn
ISBN 9780399166235

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