The Sleeping Beauty, by Mercedes Lackey

>> Sunday, October 30, 2011

TITLE: The Sleeping Beauty
AUTHOR: Mercedes Lackey

PAGES: 416

SETTING: Alternate world
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 5th book in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series

Godmother Lily serves the Kingdom of Eltaria, which may be the most imperiled of all the Five Hundred Kingdoms. It has the misfortune of being small, rich, and surrounded with enemies. Governing it has been a constant juggling trick.

But now The Tradition has decided to land the blow of making the King a widower, and his daughter the Fairest In The Land. This can only mean bad things for the King, the Princess Rosa, and above all, the Kingdom itself.
I've been reading Lackey's Five Hundred Kingdoms series since the first one, the amazing The Fairy Godmother. While I've enjoyed the three books that came out since, I haven't absolutely loved them. A couple of them have felt a bit YAish, and I've sometimes found the actual story a bit meh, even as I was still loving the world-building. The Sleeping Beauty brings the series back up to the level where it started. I adored it and couldn't put it down.

The premise of the series, for those of you who haven't read any of the books yet, is a world which is influenced by something called The Tradition. The Tradition is a sort of mindless, unthinking force which tries to shape events into traditional stories. So, for instance, if a king with a beautiful daughter is widowed, evil sorceresses will feel the need to descend in force and try to seduce him into marriage, and he will feel somehow compelled to actually marry one of them, thus giving the young princess an evil stepmother.

The Tradition, however, is not an absolute compulsion, and people who understand how it works can manipulate it and undermine it, forcing it into paths less harmful to everyone involved. This is the role of Godmothers, who protect the Kingdoms assigned to them.

Godmother Lily protects the very rich and very small Kingdom of Eltaria, a full time job if there ever was one. Eltaria is seen as a valuable prize by all of its neighbours, and for centuries, its kings have spent most of their time defending it. As the story starts, the King is widowed, and in order to protect him and his young daughter, Rosamunde, Lily agrees with the King that she'll pose as his evil sorceress wife. She'll be a little bit mean to Princess Rosa, thus satisfying the Tradition without doing lasting damage.

But things still require constant vigilance, as a few years later, with Rosa all grown up, it becomes clear that the Tradition is still trying to force her into some quite harmful traditional paths.

I had a blast while reading this. It a mashup of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, with a big chunk of Norse mythology mixed in. There are seven horrid dwarves, an evil Huntsman clearly working for a mysterious someone, and a young man called Siegfried, who is desperately trying to find a way to avoid having to wake up a shieldmaiden called Brunhilde, who's also his aunt, asleep in a ring of fire (which, he's heard, will trigger all sorts of tragedy and Doom). There's also a traditional tournament, with a huge number of princes vying for Princess Rosa's hand.

If this sounds all very vague, it's on purpose. The fun of this is seeing where Lackey takes the story, and how everything fits in, with bits of different stories tied together that I would never have imagined. It's magnificent, extremely clever world-building, as always, and I lost count of the times when I was expecting a certain thing and Lackey just took the action in a completely unexpected (usually quite subversive) direction.

But the reason I actually crossed the line into loving this book is that we also get a proper story and a lovely romance. Even though at one point it looks like Lackey will try to set up a bit of a triangle (when at the beginning, both Siegfried and the slightly rakish Leopold happen upon Rosa asleep at the same time, and fight for the right to wake her), it's clear from the start that Siegfried is the one we should be rooting for.

And root for thim I did. I absolutely loved him. He's the perfect beta hero in a huge warrior package: kind, considerate and extremely clever, as well as big and burly and a consummate swordsman. I especially enjoyed how Lackey played with some characteristics that are typically presented as feminine in romance, such as the fact that he befriends animals, and that unicorns looooove him (well, he comes from a kingdom where all the women he meets are his aunts, after all, so no wonder he's quite virginal). He likes Rosa from the start, and the romance develops very nicely.

Rosa herself is great as well. She didn't shine for me quite as much as Siegfried did, but she's sensible and capable (including capable of participating quite actively in her own rescues), and just as nice as Siegfried. Their romance is not heavy on the lusting, but it's plenty heartwarming and sweet, not in a saccharine way, but in a way that made me smile throughout the entire book.

If you haven't tried this series yet, you're missing out.



Darlynne,  30 October 2011 at 19:49  

Rosario, do you recommend starting with the first book or can I jump right in to The Sleeping Beauty? I've never read Ms. Lackey's work, for no other reason than I haven't gotten around to it, but I am completely intrigued by your review.

rosario001,  31 October 2011 at 06:39  

Darlynne: hmmm... I think this one stands alone pretty well. I'd say you'll probably be ok, the explanations about how things work in this world and what the Tradition is should be clear enough. So whichever one is easier for you to find!

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