cover image While Beauty Slept

While Beauty Slept

Elizabeth Blackwell. Putnam/Amy Einhorn, $25.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-399-16623-5

This retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” by debut novelist Blackwell is faithful to the original while offering a fresh interpretation. Though set amid the pomp and pestilence of a fictionalized medieval kingdom, the novel’s characters—a couple dogged by infertility, a young girl resisting overprotection, a family torn apart by jealousy—have a contemporary resonance. Its narrator, Elise Dalriss, is raised on a farm, but feels most at home in the royal castle. Rising quickly through the ranks there, she becomes handmaiden to the queen, allowing her to witness the royal family’s troubles firsthand. Unable to produce an heir, Queen Lenore turns to the king’s aunt, Millicent, who is reputed to have magical powers. The queen bears a healthy girl with Millicent’s help, but not before King Ranolf grows resentful of his aunt’s imperiousness. Millicent is banished from the kingdom, becoming one of many dangers beyond its walls, while Princess Rose grows up sheltered against her aunt’s parting threats. When her parents’ elaborate defenses fail to protect their daughter, it is Elise, her confidante, who must keep Rose alive. Elise’s own tale grounds the novel, and the twists that resolve the women’s stories are both convincing and moving. (Feb.)