Mercedes Lackey – The Sleeping Beauty

Heavy is the head—and the eyelids—of the princess who wears the crown…

In Rosamund’s realm, happiness hinges on a few simple beliefs. For every princess there’s a prince. The King has ultimate power. Stepmothers should never be trusted. And bad things come to those who break with Tradition….

But when Rosa is our sued by a murderous huntsman and then captured by dwarves, her beliefs go up in smoke. Determined to escape and save her kingdom from imminent invasion, she agrees to become the subject of one of her stepmother’s risky incantations—thus falling in a deep, deep sleep.

When awakened by a touchy-feely stranger, Rosa must choose between Tradition and her future…between a host of eligible princes and a handsome, fair-haired outsider. And learn the difference between being a princess and ruling as a Queen.

In 2004 Mercedes Lackey started a new series called the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms. It’s a series of books set in a universe ruled by the Tradition, the force that drives fairy tales. Unlike her Elemental Masters series, which are rather more straight up fairy tale retellings, the stories set in the Five Hundred Kingdoms are very tongue in cheek. Lackey obviously has a lot of fun creating them and shows that humorous writing is a skill she definitely possesses. Where the earlier books mostly concentrated on one particular trope or fairy tale, The Sleeping Beauty, despite the title, is a fun mash-up of several fairy tales. It was quite funny and drew several out-loud chuckles while reading.

As these books are published by LUNA books, a Harlequin imprint, obviously romance plays a large part in them. In The Sleeping Beauty, we have not one, but two serious contenders for Rosa’s hand, though it’s never in doubt with whom Rosamund will end up at the end of the tale—or rather I never doubted, who she’d end up with. Despite it being partly a romance, don’t expect any heaving bosoms, fluttering eyelids or other such staples, as this isn’t that kind of romance. Rosa is by no means your normal wishy-washy princess. She’s quite the feminist; she doesn’t need a prince to do her dirty work, thank you very much. This becomes pretty clear once she gets kidnapped by the dwarves and she pulls herself together and decides to make her escape, even if she isn’t quite sure how. And it’s re-enforced when she’s taken by the bad guys and nearly manages to escape on her own. As such, she a strong female character, which I really liked. She’s backed up by another strong female: her country’s Fairy Godmother. I really liked Godmother Lily, who takes a far more pro-active role than we’re used to in traditional fairy tales, actively interfering in how the Tradition plays out and at times giving it a great, good shove in the direction she wants it to go.

However strong the females in this story, the boys hold their own. Yes, some of the princes and adventures that show up for the tournament to win Rosamund’s hand are rather two dimensional and very, very much archetypal fairy tale heroes, but that’s the point. They’re being made fun off. Our heroes on the other hand, Siegfried and Leopold, can hold their own against the ladies.  I liked the juxtaposition between the two. Siegfried, at first glance, seems to be your typical sword-flinging Northland barbarian, but there is an unexpected depth to him and he is fleeing his own Destiny as the Tradition would have it, which leads to some hilarious scenes. Leopold, however, is the standard younger son of a small kingdom, witty and urbane, seemingly only looking to marry into power and wealth, but looks can be deceiving. I loved the final resolution of their tale, not just who ends up with Rosa, but also how the other finds love.

The Sleeping Beauty is another fun Lackey tale, but completely different from her Valdemar novels and her other fantasy work. However, it remains recognisably Lackey. The tale isn’t very deep or dark, but it’s a perfect read when you need cheering up or just need to lose yourself in a fun, light story. I had fun with it and I’ll certainly be back for the next instalment, which is already out, called Beauty and the Werewolf. If you’re ever in need of a quick and comfy read, one of the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, and The Sleeping Beauty especially, will certainly fit that bill.