Title: While Beauty Slept
Author: Elizabeth Blackwell
No. of Pages: 432
Origins: Amy Einhorn Books
Release Date: 20 February 2014
Bottom Line: Creative retelling even if the story doesn’t quite hold up
“I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told.
And so begins Elise Dalriss’s story. When she hears her great-granddaughter recount a minstrel’s tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, a door 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. Her story unveils a labyrinth where secrets connect to an inconceivable evil. As only Elise understands all too well, the truth is no fairy tale.”
Thoughts: While Beauty Slept is a difficult book to review because part of its charm lies in the unfolding of its well-known story. To spoil any bit of the story would be to ruin its impact and the pleasure derived from experiencing it.
That Rose ends up being a secondary character to Elise’s primary one is an unexpected twist given the title and the subject matter. It does not diminish one’s enjoyment of the story, nor does it thoroughly enhance it. Rose is a weak character, pampered, sheltered within an inch of her life, and surprisingly docile in the face of her isolation. Elise is a much stronger character, in that she actually takes action. However, even there, she is not as strong as she could be or should be. There is so much potential in her character to fly beyond the confines of social mores and gender dictates, but she always stops at the precipice. It is a frustrating experience for readers hoping for a modern vibe to the story.
While it is difficult to say that While Beauty Slept is a brilliant reimagining of a famous fairy tale, it is definitely a creative one. Those who only know of the Disney version will appreciate the subtle nods to the movie. Similarly, it is easy to imagine how Ms. Blackwell’s “truth” became a fairy tale, and vice versa since it has all of the elements that make for a great bedtime story. Unfortunately, Ms. Blackwell is unable to remove the anti-feminist aspects of this famous tale, and therein the story suffers. For, if one is going to redo a fairy tale, it would be better to make the princess the kick-ass heroine who saves the prince rather than follow the same well-trodden path of girl rescued by boy. Alas, this is not the case, and while much of Ms. Blackwell’s story is different, there is much that sadly remains the same.