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Obligatory disclaimer: not only do I know the author, she bought my second short story to see print.

The title may tip you off that this is a Sleeping Beauty retelling. There are, of course, approximately six billion and two of those out there. This one, while I would not call it exceptional, does achieve different. It's cast as a family saga this time, a family which has always had the capacity to bestow magical gifts on its children (someone way back when gave them all longevity, for one thing). There are eight aunts with gifts to bestow on their grandniece Helena, and of course the eldest is not invited to the christening, due to a rift that arose long ago, a rift tangled up in roses, the death of their brother, the nature of the eldest sister's gift, and, of all people, King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

I always like to see Ludwig turn up in a fantasy novel, although I think I am a tad spoiled for other depictions by You Higuri's manga Ludwig II, a piece of decadently, flamboyantly over-the-top fictionalized biography complete with occasional automatons and an afterword in which the author complains that Ludwig's historically attested mustache was so terrible she had to excise it from her artwork. After that, I have had trouble quite believing in him in anything even remotely less sensational than Die Walk├╝re. But that is me.

Anyhow, while this novel is not Wagner, it's fairly fraught; the tensions between the sisters are murderously passionate and I'm not sure any of them have a real claim at being the good one. Most interestingly, neither does Helena, who is so full of the various magical gifts she's been given that there is no space in her for compassion, empathy, or forbearance.

So, although this is a book with a tendency to tell and not to show, and although the prose is more than slightly blunt (and not abetted by one of the worst copyediting jobs I have run across in some while; I have had to restrain myself from going after my library copy with a red pen), this is not entirely the novel we have all read so many times we can recite it, and is therefore a pleasant interval for people who enjoy fairytale retellings. It amused me rather than touching me, and I cannot say it is even, necessarily, a good book-- although it has one in it somewhere, I am not sure that one was successfully excavated-- but I would be interested in a novel by the author when she is not working with such familiar material.


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March 2017

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