While Beauty Slept

Written by Elizabeth Blackwell
Review by Audra Friend

This engrossing historical fantasy imagines the story of Sleeping Beauty as told by a young woman of humble birth who plays a key part in the creation of the legend.

Young Elise is barely a teenager when she finds herself among the few survivors of the pox in her village. She flees her hard life on her family’s farm in search of her aunt, a merchant’s wife who helps her find placement in the royal household. Elise’s quick wits, observant nature, loyalty, and modesty help propel her in rank until she is maidservant to the queen. When the queen, long thought barren, gives birth to a daughter, the joy is shattered by the vindictive curses of the king’s aunt, a woman whispered to be a sorceress.

Elise is an appealing narrator, and Blackwell’s narrative style invites the reader to sink into the story and listen to Elise’s tale. The reader follows Elise from her tender teen years through her turbulent adulthood as she suffers not just the anxieties of court but romantic intrigue as well. Devoted to the young princess and ever aware of the curses, Elise tries to defend her from death while the reader waits for the seemingly inevitable conclusion.

Fans of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale will enjoy seeing the familiar elements of the story recast and reimagined, with a clever twist to the end that allows for a richer happily-ever-after.