Does true love conquer all? Did a magic spell enchant an entire castle and was Beauty really saved by her prince’s kiss?
Blackwell’s debut novel follows Elise, a country girl whose late mother urged her to escape the drudgery of farm life and seek employment at the castle as she herself did long before Elise’s birth. To escape the brutality of her stepfather, Elise does just that, hoping to better her desperate situation by striving for a respectable position. At the castle, Elise’s loyalty and discretion ensure that she climbs the ladder, all the way to a position as the queen’s personal attendant. From that vantage point, Elise witnesses the king and queen’s desperation to have a child and the “deal with the devil” the queen makes with Millicent, the king’s aunt, to get what she wants.
When beautiful Princess Rose is born, everything seems right with the world. But the king is horrified to learn of Millicent’s control over his wife. Millicent is banished, but before she leaves, she promises death and destruction to the king, queen, Rose, and the entire kingdom. The weight of Millicent’s words lighten as years pass, the threats a distant memory but one that is never completely gone from Elise’s thoughts. Elise spends her time loyally seving the royal family and learning herbal medicine from Flora, the king’s other aunt, who warns Elise that Millicent will rise again. Elise and Rose grow into womanhood, experiencing life and love in ways that even a castle cannot shelter them from. But Millicent’s shadow is never far away. War ravages the kingdom, and Millicent reappears, promising to unleash the terror she promised. Elise is now all that stands between the princess and evil forces.
This tale is an irresistible treat – an adult retelling for all those who loved Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” as children. I confess it was, and continues to be, my favorite Disney fairytale of all-time. In keeping with her “adult fairytale”, Blackwell uses herbal medicine rather than healing spells, threats and manipulation rather than curses, and war and disease rather than sorcery. I do wish there was more detail about Flora’s tutoring of Elise – I think the knowledge Flora passes to Elise would have added a great dimension to the tale – but the ending, if bittersweet, is a finish worthy of this grown up tale. This represents the best of both worlds – a fairytale with all the imaginative aspects we expect, with a more mature, grounded telling. This is one more chance to step into that fantasy world and revisit a beloved story, this time from a grown up’s perspective.
Amazon link for the book is here.