Title: While Beauty Slept
Author: Elizabeth Blackwell
Publishing Information: February 20, 2014 by Putnam
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance, Gothic, Fairy Tale
Series information: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Source: Received an ARC from the publisher
Recommended For: Fans of historical fiction, and darker, bittersweet fantasy novels
While Beauty Slept re-imagines the legend through the lens of historical fiction, telling the story as if it really happened. A Gothic tale of suspense and ambition, love and loss, it interweaves the story of a royal family and the servants who see behind the glamorous facade, following the journey of a young woman as she lives out a destiny that leads her to the brink of death.
This novel was not at all what I was expecting. For some reason, I went into this novel thinking it was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, complete with magic, and evil villains. While it was, in a roundabout way, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, it consisted of much more. While Beauty Slept was a very interesting work of historical fiction, with palace intrigue, upstairs/downstairs drama, and coming of age happenings.
The romances in this novel take a back seat to the familiar relationships and in truth, they are much more impressive than those focused on romance. The love between the queen and Elise, and between Elise and Rose is very special to watch. They all become family in an unusual but sweet way. The romances of the novel, however, fell a bit flat for me. I had a hard time relating to most, and they seemed thrown together in a bit of randomness.The relationship between Elise and Dorian threw me off but I can appreciate how they each got together out of a sense of duty rather than romantic inclinations. It surely did show a new side to Elise, but overall it seemed a little out of place. I suppose the ending of the prince “waking the beauty” was fairytale-esque, but as mentioned, this was a hisotircal fiction novel and not a fantasy so while the ending was tied up neatly, it didn’t sit right in the historical fiction setting.
The villain of While Beauty Slept was a little underwhelming for me as well. She did manage to take down an entire kingdom, but there were so many things hinted at regarding her character, and her association with the queen and in truth I just wanted more. I understood her villainy, and I understood the queen’s loyalty to her, but I wanted more wickedness from her character. The King and Queen were very lovable, and they loved each other in a beautiful way, it shone throughout the novel. Elise was likable in her own way but there were times that I wanted her to have a little more strength and live for herself instead of others. In the end, she is able to find her own happiness which was a relief but the novel was very bittersweet throughout.
Overall I found While Beauty Slept to be intriguing and only slightly reminiscent of traditional fairytales. While reading this novel I was extremely captivated, but looking back with more of a critic’s eye, I am finding some aspects of the novel falling short of my general expectations and first impressions. That being said, I do recommend it highly to readers who enjoy historical fiction. However, if you are looking for an upbeat fairytale, complete with straightforward happy endings, maybe skip over this one as the novel as a whole was beautiful, but bittersweet.