WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT by Elizabeth Blackwell


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In her first novel, Blackwell keeps her retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" in the once-upon-a-time past but makes the standard version’s reliance on magic subservient to a more psychological/sociological interpretation.

When aged Elise overhears her granddaughter telling the popular legend about a sleeping princess brought back to life by a kiss, she feels compelled to tell the real events she witnessed 50 years earlier while a beloved servant of King Ranolf and Queen Lenore: Aware she was the bastard offspring of an unnamed father connected to the castle where her mother once worked as a seamstress, Elise arrived at court as a teenager. Although her quick rise to becoming personal attendant to Queen Lenore made her unpopular with other servants, Elise adored her work and the gentle queen. But all was not as copacetic as it at first seemed. Lenore’s inability to bear an heir was creating a political as well as a marital crisis. Ranolf was about to buckle to pressure to name his brutal brother Bowen as successor, when Lenore returned from a journey with Ranolf’s great-aunt Millicent and announced her pregnancy. Soon, Millicent and Ranolf were locked in a power struggle over influencing Lenore, and Elise found her own allegiance to the queen compromised. And after Princess Rose was born, stubborn Ranolf banished Millicent, who vowed to destroy Ranolf’s kingdom. Whether she possessed any special power was less important than the “distrust and fear” that gradually overtook Ranolf’s rule as Rose grew up. Equally devoted to Rose as to her mother, Elise also lived her own life, complete with an early love and a complicated marriage. By the time Rose was 17, Ranolf had won a pyrrhic victory in his war against his enemies, including his brother, and Lenore had drifted under the spell of a religious fanatic. Then the kingdom faced an even greater crisis and Elise was assigned to protect Rose at all costs, including complete isolation.

Intelligent escapism that should please Brothers Grimm lovers more than Disney fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 20th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-399-16623-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2014


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