While Beauty Slept
I liked fairy tales as a child and was drawn to this new book While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell--a retelling of the tale of Sleeping Beauty with an emphasis on court life and power struggles rather than magic. It is fantasy that reads like historical fiction.
Main character and narrator Elise hears her great-granddaughter talk about the tale of Sleeping Beauty, and Elise decides to tell her the truth. Elise’s mother worked at the castle as a seamstress but had to leave when Elise was conceived out of wedlock. Her beloved mother married a cold-hearted farmer, and they lived in poverty until the pox wiped out most of the family. Elise then left to find work at the castle, was hired by the housekeeper who was a friend of her mother’s, and met her first love, Marcus, a shoemaker’s son. Through hard work, discretion, and good luck, Elise rose in the ranks of the servants and became Queen Lenore’s personal maid. Also residing at the castle was King Ranolf’s domineering aunt Millicent and his reclusive aunt Flora who was an expert in herbal medicine. Queen Lenore had been unable to conceive so King Ranolf’s younger brother Prince Bowen expected to be named the heir. Then Millicent took Queen Lenore on a “pilgrimage” after which she was able to conceive. When their daughter was born, she was named Rose, and the King declared her to be the heir which made an enemy of Prince Bowen. Millicent demanded her due from helping Queen Lenore, but the King told her to stay away from Queen Lenore. Millicent cursed the family and was banished. Elise was privy to all that went on at the court and became a confidante to Princess Rose. Because of fears for her safety, Rose lived a closed protected life, and she chafed at the restrictions. The book moves to a dramatic ending because you know from the fairy tale that the Princess will sleep and a Prince will come, but how this eventually comes about has its own twists.
This is a good choice for people who like reading the “Five Hundred Kingdoms” series by Mercedes Lackey or the “Wicked” series by Gregory Maguire. For people who like a retelling of a well-known story from the point of view of a servant, try Jo Baker’s Longbourn, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice.