A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms #5: The Sleeping Beauty
(c) 2010 Mercedes Lackey
Rosamond has the bad luck to be an orphaned princess in a wealthy little kingdom surrounded by larger, hostile enemies, any one of whom will invade at the news that her warrior-king father has finally surrendered to battle exhaustion and depression over losing his wife, her mother, the sainted Celeste. Still worse, Rosamond lives in a region where narrative magic is an active force in the lives of all, constantly attempting to entrap people into reliving and fulfilling stories from Tradition. Princesses are doomed to become prey to evil stepmothers and find themselves locked in towers or trapped in deep sleeps, waiting for the kiss of some prince charming, and young men are forever having to prove themselves in battle against dragons decimating the countryside. Now, with her parents dead, Rosamund stands fully exposed to the whims of Tradition — and even her fairy Godmother can only do so much to corral the chaos. The Sleeping Beauty is a unique spin on several fairy-tale stories, featuring several strong characters who are determined to live their own lives despite the forces attempting to push them down predetermined paths.
From the cover alone, this is not the kind of book you’d normally find me reading: it looks for all the world like a romance. The book and its connected series were given to me by a friend, though, one who recently introduced me to Into the Woods and Shrek the Musical, both of which also play with fairy tale tropes. The setting at first appears a conventional medieval-fantasy arena: castles, horses, men-at-arms, dragons, magic, that sort of thing. What makes the Five Hundred Kingdoms series is that the people who live within the novel are aware (to varying degrees) of how The Tradition can alter their lives: certain castes like royals, young men, and innocent shepherdesses are especially exposed to it. The masters at reading and manipulating tradition are Godmothers, who advise kingdoms and attempt to help their wards bend to The Tradition without being broken by it. Godmother Lily is the star here, being an especially talented Godmother whose expertise has been forced by having to advise a kingdom in constant mortal and magical peril: after Rosamund disappears in the woods, fleeing a treacherous servant in the pay of an unknown mischief-maker, she creates a grand contest to secure the Kingdom and Rosamond once and for all. Although the title of this book hints that Rosamund is fulfilling the Sleeping Beauty story, there are other narratives mixed in, including those from Norse mythology: The Tradition isn’t necessarily picky about which Path it forces on young princesses, so long as they find themselves far enough down one path to fulfill it.
The Sleeping Beauty surprised me: I expected something of a chick book, to be honest, but this was imaginative and funny, with about as romance as I usually encounter in one of my more ‘manly’ war stories. I’m interested in reading more of this series.