What if the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty, one that many of us probably know so well thanks to the Disney animated version, were real? You’d say that would be impossible; fairies aren’t real, and no evil witch could transform herself into a dragon or cast a spell that would put a princess into a deep sleep. Elizabeth Blackwell’s While Beauty Slept is inspired by the beloved fairy tale, with a few nods to the Disney classic. But in her tale, there are no fairies, magic, or wicked spells.
While Beauty Slept is told from the first-person point of view of Elise Darliss, a working class girl who loses her mother to the pox at the age of fourteen. Elise’s fortune changes when she secures a position in the castle of St. Elsip…or so it seems. Torn between two women, Millicent and Queen Lenore, Elise must decide whether admiration of a woman’s influential presence or love and loyalty are strongest.
Millicent is only a mortal woman, nearly nothing like the Maleficent of the Walt Disney tale. But in many ways, she is even more frightening than Maleficent. Blackwell gives her a convincing connection to the royals of St. Elsip by casting her as the elderly aunt of the king, and a plausible motive for why she later on in the tale sets out to ruin her own flesh and blood.
Queen Lenore is perhaps my favorite character in all of While Beauty Slept; she is a role model for Elise, a shining example of kindness and love. Her fine character made Elise’s small betrayal toward the beginning of the novel all the more painful to read, but Elise is able to redeem herself in the end, and after so many years of hardship and sacrifice makes her own version of a happy ending.
Rose, who is the “sleeping beauty” of the story, is not very prominent because this is Elise’s journey. But Rose’s small presence made a lasting impression on me, of a princess who longs for more and has to give up on her own dreams for the sake of duty.
Although there are happy endings for many of the characters, they are more realistic than that of any fairy tale. I was saddened to see how some of the characters fared, but relieved that they got to know happiness even if it did not last for a full lifetime.
Elizabeth Blackwell is an author to keep an eye on; her stunning prose cast a spell on me and I am eager to see what future contributions she will make to modern day literature.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.