Author: Elizabeth Blackwell; c.2014, Berkeley Trade; $16; 464 pages
Once upon a time…
Everybody knows that’s how a good fairy tale begins. Once upon a time – and then the evil witch arrives, chaos ensues, horses and carriages, something-something, the prince whisks in and saves the princess, The End.
Everyone knows that’s how it goes. But it doesn’t – and in the book “While Beauty Slept” by Elizabeth Blackwell, the truth is finally told.
Elise Dalriss was quite dismayed.
Her beloved great-granddaughter, Raimy, was surely entertaining, acting out all the parts of a fairy tale for her young siblings, and the children were simply enthralled. Someday, Raimy would be a great actress but Elise was troubled.
The girl had the story all wrong.
Once upon a time, as Elise knew was true, a handsome king and his beautiful queen lived inside a grand fortress surrounded by the village of St. Elsip . The castle was large in young Elise’s imagination then but, as the daughter of peasants, she seldom ventured into the village and had never been inside castle walls - though she knew her mother had, long ago.
What was it like in the castle? Elise pestered her mother for an answer, never believing she’d see it herself. She knew a secret about her own birth, but she also knew that peasant girls didn’t mix with royalty. Still, when her mother died of the pox, Elise heeded her last words and went in search of work in the castle.
To her surprise, she was hired immediately.
For many months, she worked diligently, absorbing all she could about life devoted to the Royal Family. She also learned that Queen Lenore cried almost every morning, and that gossip spread quickly behind castle walls, so she kept mum - a discretion that garnered the trust of the Queen, who requested Elise as a personal attendant. As the years passed, Elise proved herself essential to the Queen’s court.
She had so many memories of her time behind castle walls: special friendships, the birth of Princess Rose, falling in love. Her loyalty had kept her at the Queen’s side. Her wits kept little Rose safe. But when war broke out in a faraway land and evil strode across the drawbridge, could she protect the kingdom?
Happily ever after? Once upon a time, that was possible but the story’s a little different in “While Beauty Slept.”
Blackwell takes a classic fairy tale, gives it new characters with rich lives inside a bustling castle, and then she delivers a fierce twist with lightly-modern touches. That may sound like too much of a departure from the story we’ve all grown up with but Blackwell surely makes it work, managing to keep it all within the very basic confines of the Grimm Brothers’ original.
That kept my pages turning, and I think it’ll satisfy you ever-after, too. So grab “While Beauty Slept” but don’t wait – if you’ve wanted to be a princess, if you love a good jousting tale, or crave a very well-done Medieval-ish novel, then your Once Upon a Time is now.