Review: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

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.

5 thoughts on “Review: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

  1. Although it seems as though you wanted this story to be more openly a retelling, I’m kind of even more interested knowing that Blackwell did not take a traditional fairy-tale retelling route here. Perhaps this is one of those stories where it’s better to know beforehand that the blurb and title aren’t quite accurate of the story’s contents, to help readers better anticipate the type of story they’re reading. It sounds like at least an interesting historical fiction read, even if it wasn’t quite as good as you’d hoped. Lovely review!

    • I agree, I still really liked it but I kept being jarred out of the story because I was like wait…why..? HAHA It was interesting and incredibly bittersweet. I recommend it 🙂

  2. I actually added this to my TBR today, but I don’t know about the bittersweet thing… Not that I like books to end with everything tied up with a perfect little bow, but I do like for things to be pretty happy. I suppose I’ll just have to check it out and give it a try.

  3. This is pretty much exactly how I felt. I loved the writing and the overall idea of the story. It definitely kept me interested and I wanted to keep reading but the relationships TOTALLY fell flat for me. I couldn’t relate to the main character at all which is not always a deal breaker for me but she was just so blah. I didn’t particularly think she had any emotion herself. It was odd. I wanted to like it a lot more and have it be more fairy tale-esque. Still like it, but like you said, not what I was expecting.

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