Elizabeth Blackwell, While Beauty Slept
This loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty follows the fortunes of Elise, a peasant who dreams of a better life. Growing up, she listened to her mother’s stories about working at the king’s palace and fantasized about going there herself one day. When a tragic outbreak of the pox kills most of her family, Elise decides she has nothing to lose and sets out to follow her dream. But working at the palace turns out to be more complicated than Elise anticipated. She sees that the king and queen, though apparently blessed with both love and riches, are devastated by their childless state — especially because the king’s brother has a jealous eye on the throne. She also observes the complicated relationship between the queen and Millicent, a relative of the king’s who lives in the palace and has a reputation for witchcraft. When an heir to the throne is born at last, Elise is caught up in the turmoil that ensues; eventually, she is the only person who can ensure the future of the kingdom.
I’m a big fan of fairy tale retellings, so I was excited to find a copy of this book at the library. Overall, I really enjoyed it, but I would caution fantasy lovers that it’s much more of a historical novel than a fairy tale. There’s hardly anything supernatural in the book; although Millicent plays the part of the evil fairy in the Sleeping Beauty tale (and even curses the newborn princess), her ultimate strike against the royal family has nothing to do with magic or sorcery. But I love historical fiction, so I very much enjoyed this magic-less tale. And many elements of the Sleeping Beauty story were still incorporated into this book; I especially liked the burning of the spinning wheels. Elise got on my nerves sometimes — she’s a bit too judgmental and superior for my liking — but ultimately I was interested in the story she told. The ending, in particular, packs a real punch! So all in all, I’d recommend this book to fans of historical fiction or fairy tale retellings.
4 thoughts on “Review: While Beauty Slept”
So strange — I’d never heard of this at all and now have heard about it from two separate people in one day! I’m glad you mentioned that it’s a magic-free retelling. I like historical fiction, but it’s not good to go into a book expecting it to be something it isn’t going to be.
Agreed — I hate when a book’s cover and blurb give you a certain impression, but then it turns out to be about something else altogether!
I agree that this was more historical fiction than fairy tale, but I love historical fiction and thought making the original fairy tale darker and more real was a very clever idea. I thought it made for a wonderful book!
I love historical fiction too! I especially liked the end of the book, after Millicent’s “curse” took effect. It was a really disturbing turn of events!