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Sonderbooks Book Review of

While Beauty Slept

by Elizabeth Blackwell


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While Beauty Slept

by Elizabeth Blackwell

Review posted October 17, 2017.
Berkley Books, 2014. 456 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve meant to read this book for a very long time, especially once I had a signed copy. But I have a horrible problem with not getting around to reading books I own because they don’t have a due date. Anyway, I finally got this book read on a flight home from Portland – and I’m so glad I did.

I’ve always loved fairy tale retellings. This is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But usually such retellings are Fantasy. This one takes out the overt magic. There is a possibility of a curse; there is a possibility that the baby’s great-aunt does dark magic. But the story is told as historical fiction, set in medieval times, as something that could have actually happened. (Except that the kingdoms mentioned are still not actual kingdoms from our world, so technically, I'll have to classify it as Fantasy. But the flavor is Historical.)

Our narrator is an old servant of Queen Lenore, the mother of Rose who became the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tale. She saw all the events of the tale from start to finish. She’s looking back on her life and telling the story to her great-grandchild.

In the prologue, she’s hears children telling the fairy tale based on the experiences she lived.

Ha! It would be a fine trick indeed to fell a royal daughter with a needle, then see her revived by a single kiss. If such magic exists, I have yet to witness it. The horror of what really happened has been lost, and no wonder. The truth is hardly a story for children.

I was afraid with that line that the book would be too dark for my taste – but the story is beautiful. Yes, there are dark and tragic parts, but it’s woven through with love and with actual human passions and mistakes and foibles.

In the fifty years since those terrible days in the tower, I have never spoken of what happened there. But with my body failing and death in my sights, I have been plagued by memories, rushing in unbidden, provoking waves of longing for what once was. Perhaps that is why I remain on this earth, the only person who knew Rose when she was young and untouched by tragedy. The only one who watched it all unfold, from the curse to the final kiss.

During the course of the tale our narrator, Elise, grows from a child in poverty into a mature adult, living in the castle. She gains perspective and makes hard choices and becomes a guide for young Rose through difficult times. I think that’s why this isn’t a young adult novel. This isn’t a coming-of-age story, but a story of a life lived beside large events, events that affected a kingdom. It’s about love and about choices and about making your way in the world.

And I especially liked the ending.

This is a beautiful book, which I know I’m going to want to read again sometime in the future.