Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: The Princess Aurore has had an unusual childhood. Cursed at birth, Aurore is fated to prick her finger at the age of sixteen and sleep for one hundred years -- until a prince awakens her with a kiss. So, to protect her, Aurore's loving parents forbid any task requiring a needle.
Unable to sew or embroider like most little princesses, Aurore instead explores the castle grounds and beyond, where her warmth and generosity soon endear her to the townspeople. their devotion to the spirited princess grows as she does.
On her sixteenth birthday, Aurore learns that the impending curse will harm not only her, but the entire kingdom as well. Unwilling to cause suffering, she will embark on a quest to end the evil magic. The princess's bravery will be rewarded as she finds adventure, enchantment, a handsome prince, and ultimately her destiny.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling
Oh, Once Upon a Time summary writers, what am I going to do with you? To be misleading is one thing. But to be factually inaccurate about parts of the book? Aurore didn’t spend time outside because she wasn’t allowed to embroider. In fact, her going outside coincided with learning to embroider. And it wasn’t just needles she was kept away from – it was anything that could be considered remotely sharp and/or dangerous. Honestly, do you even read the books you’re summarizing, or are you summarizing from a summary?
Let’s just jump right in.
So, this was one of Dokey’s first offerings to the Once Upon a Time series, and it was the first one that I read. I’ve talked in the past about how Dokey tends to open her novels to this series with some sort of commentary on the nature of storytelling? Well, this novel’s was the first of those that I read, and honestly, while I always appreciate what she has to say, this is the novel where that really fits the best. Because so much about Sleeping Beauty is about how stories evolve over time and turn into legend and myth.
This book is a first-person narration, from our Sleeping Beauty character Aurore, and you can tell from the way that she speaks that she is coming to tell her tale after the events have already happened, after she’s woken up and been filled in on what her story has become. And so this great evolution of her narrative is silly to her, the way details have been changed to fit a little neater into place, the way things get exaggerated and overplayed.
So in the preamble, as she calls it, she pokes fun at that, stating that she has to begin her story with Once upon a time because that’s how stories like this are expected to start, and she wants the reader to think her story is a good one, so she’d better conform to expectations.
Aurore’s voice is just wonderful. She is spirited and feisty, and she speaks her mind. But more than that, she is incredibly conversational. You are always aware that she is speaking this to an audience, telling her story in a way that feels very one-on-one. And a lot of the criticism that I’ve read of this book calls Dokey out for this. It’s not a narrative tone everyone likes.
And I can get where that criticism comes from. This is a very different tone than novels usually take, and it’s not something that goes away. It is present throughout, so if that’s the kind of thing you don’t like, you’re going to not like for the entire book.
Personally, though, I love it. Because Aurore tells stories the way that I tell stories, and I’ve had more than one person I’ve recommended this book to tell me that Aurore sounds like me. I can see it, I guess, and if it’s true, then it goes a long way to explaining why I adore this character and her voice so much.
There are a lot of books I read and love and cannot understand why everyone in the world doesn’t love them as well. This book isn’t one of those. I love it, yes, I adore it and it’s one of my favorites. But I do understand why other people might not like it. Just to get that out of the way.
Anyway, we wrap up the preamble with Once upon a time, and Aurore begins to tell her story. And the first thing Dokey does to make me love her even more is give a point to the whole “king and queen couldn’t have a kid” mention that just kinda sits there in the fairy tale. Here, in this scenario, the lack of a child meant the lack of an heir, which made the kingdom uncomfortable, and so eventually, the king had to go ahead and essentially give up hope of having a child of his own and name his orphaned nephew, Oswald, his heir.
And then the queen got pregnant. Immediately, now, this gives us tension and conflict. Because Oswald has been being raised as if he would succeed to the throne, but now, here’s this baby, so what becomes of Oswald?
That will become a more relevant question as the novel continues, but for now, we have Aurore’s christening, which, as she tells us, we think we know the truth of, but we actually don’t. For one thing, there were no fairy godmothers present, because there were no fairies in Aurore’s kingdom. Aurore’s kingdom was a placed so steeped in magic that everyone had some and so there was nothing for the fairies to do. There were magic workers at her christening and there was a godmother who was a powerful magician, but no fairies.
Secondly, Aurore tells us, the so-called “evil fairy” was nothing of the sort. And she certainly wasn’t poosty about not getting this one invitation. No, the being who cast the curse over Aurore was her mother’s cousin, a woman named Jane who had been overlooked and overshadowed and forgotten her whole life. And as magic in this place made you into more of what you already were, magic made Jane even more invisible. And that resentment and abandonment built up and up and up in Jane, and so being forgotten in terms of being invited to the christening was just what made it boil over.
Aurore was cursed to die sometime in her sixteenth year, death brought by one drop of blood being spilled. This was to punish the Queen, giving her daughter sixteen years to live her life, as Jane was given sixteen years before being forced to follow her cousin to a foreign land. Jane casts the curse and disappears, for good this time, and the Queen, angry and hurt and scared, demands that someone do something.
But you can’t go around undoing the magic cast by others. Magic doesn’t work that way because if it did, everything would unravel. So the Queen’s demand cannot be met, and when Chantal, Aurore’s godmother and the Queen’s closest friend, steps forward to remind her of this, the Queen sees it as a betrayal and orders Chantal to leave and never return.
And Chantal does, but not before whispering another spell over Aurore, that she need not die from a drop of blood being spilled. Merely sleep, a hundred years, a spell to be broken with a kiss, though whether or not it would be the kiss of true love would remain to be seen. This is as much as Chantal can do to combat Jane’s curse, but she also whispers another key to the princess — that she will keep what she holds in her heart safe and strong.
And then Chantal does as she was ordered and leaves and no one ever sees her again. And thus we launch Aurore into her childhood, a childhood which her mother has decided will be much safer if she keeps her daughter away from anything and everything that might possibly puncture her skin ever even a little bit.
And if you’re under the impression that that doesn’t sound like a particularly fun existence, then you’re right on track with Aurore, who spent eight years under that cloud of ridiculous over-protection. The Queen’s argument is that any injury might bring on the curse. Aurore’s argument is that she’s bored and wants to go outside.
In the end, it was Oswald who turned the tide for Aurore by arguing that the more of the world she experiences, the less likely she’ll be caught off guard by something she doesn’t understand. The more comfortable she becomes with all that is in the world, the smaller the chance that she’ll be harmed by it. The Queen is convinced, and Aurore’s life opens up considerably, but more importantly, the incident changed how she viewed her cousin.
Before he became the reason she was allowed to go outside, she hated him entirely. She found him to be thoroughly unpleasant and believed that he was jealous of her, even though he was still her father’s heir, as the king hadn’t changed his declaration even after Aurore had been born. But then he went and helped her gain her heart’s desire, and he was actually the one who took her outside that first day and showed her the garden and named the plants and brought the world to her. And she could no longer quite hate him.
Aurore and Oswald have just a fascinating relationship throughout this novel, and I love it. They are both such different people — Oswald is charming and charismatic and the very image of a king. The nobles love him, and he is a true diplomat, but he is constantly aware that he is not fully accepted and that his position is a precarious one. Whereas Aurore is loved by the people of the kingdom because she is down to earth and straightforward, but she is clumsy and not charming and she has none of the social graces that everyone expects royalty to have, which makes her a very surprising Sleeping Beauty. She is not her father’s heir, but she is her father’s child, which she always used to rub in Oswald’s face.
And you never feel for Oswald more than the day that Aurore asks for permission to go beyond the palace grounds. Her father asks why she wants to, and she doesn’t have an answer beyond that she feels like she has to, has to see all of the kingdom and its people, not just the ones who live within the palace walls. She’s pulled to do so, she says. She has to.
It is in that moment that the king names Aurore his heir, even if she sleeps for 100 years. Oswald and his children, the king says, will be the kingdom’s stewards until Aurore is able to take the throne, but Aurore must be the person who succeeds him because she has expressed the desire that Oswald never has — to see and be part of all the kingdom and all its people.
Oswald is understandably hurt by this, because his uncle never communicated that this was what he was looking for, never gave any warning or indication that Oswald had been found wanting. And I just, I want to hug him so badly in this scene.
And so Aurore transforms into the most unlikely fairy tale princess ever. She goes out with her father to the villages and learns to take in a harvest and shear sheep and climb trees and spin and plant a garden. She gets brown from the sun and gains callouses on her hands from the work she does, and becomes more and more beloved by the people and more and more scorned at by the nobles.
And Oswald is constantly right in between, and she never has any idea what he truly thinks of her.
And then she reaches her sixteenth birthday. She’s put in a dress and fancy shoes and thrown a ball, and she’s never been so uncomfortable in her life, and she’s painfully aware of how at ease Oswald is when shown next to her. She overhears him speaking with the daughter of one of the most influential nobles, talking about her, and though Oswald won’t say anything against her outright, it’s pretty clear what the noblewoman’s opinion is, and Oswald doesn’t really refute it.
Aurore confronts Oswald about this conversation, and she’s angry and upset and uncomfortable and frustrated with the whole evening and the whole affair, and she says some pretty hurtful things, but Oswald doesn’t react the way she’s expecting. Before she has a chance to ponder this, however, the Bad Things start happening.
First blood rains from the sky. Then impossible heat kills all the crops. Then magic everywhere just starts going nuts. Everything is at odds, and no one can explain what’s going on, but Aurore has an inkling. The horrible things that are happening started on her birthday, and are the work of opposites pitted against each other — just like the two spells spoken over her.
She’s not the only one to come to this conclusion; several of the nobles do as well, and they go to the king and try to convince him to either send Aurore away or draw the drop of blood and bring on her curse. This is a poor choice, and to Aurore’s surprise, no one is more vocal in her defense than Oswald.
The king immediately dismisses the nobles and refuses to even consider what they had to say, but Aurore can’t stop thinking about it. And she knows, on some level, that they’re right. This is happening because of her, and it’s affecting her kingdom and her people and she has to do something about it. So in the middle of the night, she packs a bag and prepares to run away.
But Oswald, who knows her better than she likes to admit, is waiting for her. He calls her out on her cowardice and tells her if she listens to the nobles, then they’ve won. But Oswald doesn’t understand, so Aurore explains it all to him, why she has to do this, why she has to leave, and over the course of the conversation, they both learn some important things about one another. Aurore learns that Oswald doesn’t want the throne so much as he wants to be accepted as part of the family, not as a nephew but as a son. And Oswald learns that Aurore knows what she’s doing and has the potential to be a great ruler some day. And so, he promises to look after her parents and guard her kingdom well, and he lets her go.
She knows exactly where she’s going, too – to La Foret, a place that has long been forbidden to her, a forest where magic is almost sentient and ten times as strong as anywhere else because, long ago, two feuding magicians cast spells beyond their power, and the fairies, to save the lands surrounding, trapped all the magic within the forest’s borders. So time and magic are strange in La Foret, and unpredictable, and Aurore has felt a pull to the place for a very long time.
So into the forest she goes. She doesn’t know what she hopes to accomplish, and she doesn’t know why she’s there, but she knows that she’s meant to be, and from the way the Forest continually manipulates her in a specific direction, it knows more than she does.
Her first night in the Forest, she meets another person, which comes as a shock to her, as other people don’t venture into the trees. The young man goes by the name Ironheart (an unfortunate nickname from an older brother), and he is awkward, impossibly cheerful, and very absent-minded-professor. He’s on a great quest – to find the princess who’s been sleeping in the heart of the Forest for 100 years and wake her up.
Aurore is stunned when he tells her this, because she is the princess in question, but she hasn’t fallen asleep yet, and she’s only been there for a day. She doesn’t tell Ironheart any of this though, largely because he’s convinced that this sleeping princess is his soulmate, his true love, and that would be a pretty awkward conversation.
So, Aurore and Ironheart venture forth on this quest, and it becomes very quickly frustrating for Aurore, because she thought it was going to be a lot harder. She thought quests meant obstacles and challenges and proving your mettle, and all they’ve done is walk through a forest for five days at a leisurely pace.
And what I love about this part of the book is how opposite and complementary these two are. When Aurore gets frustrated, she gets snappy, but instead of getting snappy back at her, Ironheart just smiles and is perfectly polite and at ease and not fazed in the slightest by Aurore’s sour attitude, which makes it hard for her to hold onto it.
And they have a great conversation at one point about how he can be so certain that this princess he’s going to wake up is his soulmate. She’s basically picking a fight with him, and he manages to identify why, even when Aurore didn’t know – she’s scared. She’s scared of the end of the quest because she knows that her destiny, whatever it is, is waiting for her at the heart of the forest, where Ironheart’s supposed sleeping princess waits.
And what I love about these two is that there is absolutely no romantic chemistry between them. None. I love it. They fall into a fascinating friendship, but it is not romantic in the slightest, despite the fact that you know this young man will be the prince who wakes Aurore up.
Anyway, on their sixth day in the forest, they reach the heart, and it’s a great maze of rose hedges. Ironheart charges in, knowing the secret to finding the center, but he says the thing you shouldn’t say when you’re a character in a novel (about how easy something is going to be), and gets whacked across the face by a rose branch, slicing open his cheek and forehead.
He’s determined to keep going until he reaches the center, but when they do, there’s no one there. There’s a bench, with a pillow on it, but that’s all. No princess. No tower. Nothing. Ironheart can’t understand it. He’s numb with shock, and Aurore tries to reassure him that they’ll find the princess, but she should really tend to his face first.
His cheek needs to be stitched, so she pulls needle and thread from her pack to do the deed, then sticks the needle through the fabric of her breeches while she ties off the thread.
And then, in possibly my favorite part of this retelling, she goes to stand up, bracing her hands on her legs, forgets that the needle is there, and stabs herself. Not destiny, not fate, just what her mother was worried about the whole time.
She draws the necessary drop of blood, has enough time to think, Aurore, you’re an idiot, and then she faints, the spells taking over.
She sleeps for all of . . . two minutes? If that? Because Ironheart is right there, and he does all the things you do when a friend of yours goes pale and keels over for no good reason right in front of you, and kissing her is one of those things. He wakes her up, and they have the very confused (on his end) conversation of yeah, hey, guess I was your sleeping princess all along.
The rose hedge parts for them, and they find themselves no longer in the heart of the forest, but at the edge of it, Aurore’s kingdom in the distance. She remarks that this is her home, and Ironheart says cryptically that he was afraid she was going to say that. She asks what he means, and he says he’s gonna wait and let his grandfather explain.
His grandfather was the one who sent him on the quest in the first place, who told so often the tale of the sleeping princess, who was very concerned that, 100 years after she started sleeping, someone be there to wake her up, who is the oldest living man most people know.
(Who is Oswald, I hope you all were able to guess. Spoilers.)
Because Aurore has been gone both six days and 100 years. Time moves differently in la Foret. While she was in the forest, 100 years passed in her kingdom, and Oswald has been waiting for her. And he says that he is so happy, that she will marry his grandson and become Queen, and it is all he ever wanted.
And then, because she’s wonderful, Aurore says no.
She says she’s sorry to disappoint anyone, but she isn’t going to marry Ironheart because while she has come to think quite highly of him, she doesn’t love him, and when she was in the forest and the spells went to work, Chantal’s last gift was made clear to her. She saw what she held in her heart, and she knows what that gift has the power to do. She kisses Oswald and restores his youth, because Oswald is the one she loves, and the only one she will marry.
And that might be squicky to some people, but personally, I love it.
Guys, I love this book. I love everything about this book. Checklist.
Make the characters more active in their story? Check. Aurore is an incredibly active princess, going out and doing things and being a part of her kingdom. And she’s also in charge of her own destiny. She actively seeks it out. Her father is the same. And Ironheart actively searches for his maiden; Oswald would have, if he’d been young enough, but because he can’t, he trains and sends his grandson in his place. Check check check.
Introduce more conflict? Yes, and so well done. I love that Aurore wasn’t cursed over a momentary slight, but over a lifetime of being forgotten. That Jane wasn’t evil, just embittered from constantly being overlooked. It makes her much more complex. I also love the conflict within Aurore, this idea that her curse wasn’t replaced by the good fairy’s spell, but that both spells were still there, warring over her her entire life. Conflict was added, and not a predictable sort of conflict.
Explain the actions of the parents? There is no burning of the spinning wheels. There is no being gone on the day of the birthday. And these two are incredible parents. The Queen is a bit overprotective, yes, but understandably so, and even so, she’s no fainting flower. And the king is honestly one of the best fathers I’ve ever read.
Flesh the story out? Beautifully. Absolutely beautifully. I love this land and the way magic works and la Foret and the twist and how it all came together. The world was fleshed out, the story was fleshed out, the characters were fleshed out. One of my favorite things about this book was how flawed a character Aurore was. Because she was. She snapped at people and had a temper and took her frustrations out on whoever happened to be around. But she was also brave and loyal and incredibly thoughtful. She felt real. Everyone did. Just beautifully done.