The Sleeping Beauty
Fairy Tales were my very first introduction to romance, as I imagine they were for many others. I have always loved not just the HEA ending but the whole structure of the tales – the battle against evil, the good and clever hero and the beautiful and clever heroine. That is why when Mercedes Lackey began her Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms I just about swooned. These charming and quirky fantasy novels are all about taking our best known tales and turning them on their ears.
The Five Hundred Kingdoms may be full of gods and goddesses, witches and wizards but the magic you really have to watch for is The Tradition. Whenever a life is on track to go the way of a fairy tale – a beautiful girl with a selfish stepmother, a foolish young man who behaves more like a beast than a prince – the Tradition steps in and helps the tale follow the traditional path of Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. The problem? What if the prince in Cinderella’s kingdom is only ten? What if the evil huntsmen can out race Belle? This is where the Fairy Godmothers come in, gently guiding the tradition in the most benign of paths and bringing a happy ending to as many tales as possible.
Godmother Lily has had her hands full with the small but rich Kingdom of Eltaria for three hundred years. Besides the huge problem of neighboring kingdoms once more having armies camped on their doorstep she now faces the death of the Queen and the gathering of The Tradition as it tries to force an Evil Stepmother on the grieving King and his young daughter Rosa. Cleverly sidestepping the Tradition makes Lily almost feel safe but not to be thwarted, the Tradition has Rosa chased through the woods by a huntsmen and falling in with a band of evil dwarves. Close enough to Snow White to satisfy the magic but sure as heck no good for Rosa. As Lily tries to rectify the situation, the Tradition seeks out the Prince it will need to wake its beauty.
The only bit of luck Leopold was given was the fact that when his father the king threw him out, that left him a lot of Traditional paths to take. And a lot of paths means the Tradition pretty much leaves you be. So far, he has been successful by doing heroic deeds and trading the hand of the princess in for cold hard cash, and when he sees the Sleeping Beauty in the forest dollar signs spring up in his eyes. Too bad landing a kiss on those rose red lips turns out to be tougher than one would expect.
Siegfried has spent his life outrunning the Tradition. For him it holds glory – and doom. And he desperately wants to avoid the doom. So, while the tradition may plan for him to awaken a sleep-charmed Warrior Maid in her ring of fire (who will then lead him to doom! death! and glory!) he plans to awaken a Sleeping Beauty and gain some domestic tranquility in the form of a guaranteed HEA. If only he can find one. In keeping with his Tradition mandated bad luck, when he does find her there is both another Prince and a Fairy Godmother trying to awaken the same girl. The four join forces to see if this time around they can bring forth a Happily Ever After for two guys, a girl, and an overworked fairy.
This is a fun – and different – take on the Snow White tale. I found myself giggling in several spots as Lackey takes what we have come to expect from the story and spins it around on us. The awakening of Rosa from her enchanted sleep was an especially LOL moment for me.
And the hero and heroine are great characters – both of them decent to a fault, practical and intelligent. I liked them separately and as a couple. The great thing about the end was that I felt I was leaving the little kingdom of Eltaria in the hands of a really great ruling couple. These two weren’t just going to count on luck for the HEA – they would make it happen.
The secondary characters are fantastic too. In fact, their being fantastic was part of why this book didn’t earn a DIK. Between the terrific tales of the secondaries and the detailed set up of the fantasy realm, a lot of page space is used. We get to know too many people too well to really do justice to the hero and heroine and their story. Also, the end had to be rushed as a result, leaving me a tad disappointed. It wasn’t that it was bad – it just relied heavily on coincidence and speed.
I would still recommend the tale to any fantasy lover, though. It’s the kind of novel that leaves you with a smile on your face.