Sleeping Beauty is as ripe for retellings as they come. A majority of the story—the Grimms’ version, anyway—mostly details what happens when the princess falls asleep: what happens to the castle, the peasants, even the flies in the stables. The evil fairy’s spell, the rescue, the famous kiss of true love—all that is a footnote compared to how the kingdom succumbs to the curse. So, how do you make a story about a princess and her kingdom falling asleep interesting? Disney and Tchaikovsky succeeded in turning this footnote fairy tale into distinct and fun adventures, but what about Lexa Hillyer’s version?
Princesses Isabelle and Aurora were both tithed by fairies at their births: one fairy took Isabelle’s sight, and another took Aurora’s voice and sense of touch. Now young women, beautiful Aurora is due to be married for political reasons, while tempestuous Isabelle will be sent to a convent. But when Aurora pricks her finger on a spinning wheel in the castle tower, she succumbs to a sleeping sickness that pulls her into a strange, enchanted world. Meanwhile, Isabelle races to find a prince who can waken Aurora with true love’s kiss, before the dark fairy Malfleur can march on their kingdom with a dangerous army.
To make up for the original story’s simplicity, most Sleeping Beauty retellings are stuffed with political intrigue and dark magic. Aurora is marrying to forge an alliance with another kingdom against Malfleur, while a plague-like sleeping sickness provokes fear and mistrust among the people. But Isabelle and Aurora’s struggles rightfully take center stage, with Isabelle trying desperately to save her sister and Aurora trying to figure how she can escape her dream world.
As protagonists, I really liked Isabelle and Aurora, who, naturally, are polar opposites. While both their stories are compelling, I related very closely to Aurora: a sweet dreamer drawn to the notion of true love, and cares deeply for those she loves, especially her sister. Sometimes her caring nature gets her into trouble, but she always learns from her mistakes. I have a soft spot for sweet but clever protagonists, and Aurora fits that bill perfectly.
Of course, both Isabelle and Aurora have their share of romantic entanglements, which, honestly, was pretty predictable. I knew from reading the jacket summary who was going to fall for whom, and there’s almost no need to tease a romance: it all happens as you expect.
Some interesting parallels are drawn between Isabelle and Aurora, as well as Malfleur and her sister Belcoeur. However, Malfleur and Belcoeur’s story feels like a tag-on. It mostly comes into play in Aurora’s world, but not enough time is spent with the fairy sisters to truly feel for them. Their conflict is part of the reason Malfleur is marching on the kingdoms, but it doesn’t hold a lot of water.
That said, the book is still written very well, and Lexa Hillyer’s command of language is pretty good. She somehow manages to describe exactly how certain things feel. When Aurora discovers sensation for the first time, you yourself try to take into account how you first discovered heat, cold, pain, etc.
And, naturally, because there is so much unresolved in this book, there is a sequel, called Winter Glass. I’ve gone on rants before about thinking you’re in for a single-book ride, but then finding out there is more to read, so…*sigh*…I won’t bore you with another one.
Like I said, it makes sense to turn a short and simple fairy tale into a complex and engaging fantasy, but there is almost too much stuffed in here for it all to hold together. The main characters are drawn wonderfully, but trying to add a sob story for the villains nearly bogs it down. I would say there are better Sleeping Beauty retellings out there, but this one is still written beautifully.