The Once Upon a Time books are short but sweet retellings of old fairytales, written with the general plot of the original story in mind, but in such a way that there are a few surprises along the way (often the story is told in a contemporary setting that has no magical elements, or contains a twist on who the heroine eventually falls in love with). For their target audience they are a treat, and for everyone else, they are a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours.
Out of all the authors commissioned to add their retellings to the series, Cameron Dokey, the author of Belle, Before Midnight and Golden, is probably the best (or at least, my personal favourite). There’s something unique about Dokey’s ideas concerning the source material and the way in which she tells her stories that puts her contributions at the top of the pile.
When Aurore is born a great celebration is held in honour of her Christening, only for things to go very wrong when she’s cursed to prick her finger at the age of sixteen and sleep for one hundred years. Naturally, her parents are extremely protective of her, though her cousin Oswald — the regent to the throne, whose motives are ambiguous — eventually talks them into letting her explore the world outside the castle, arguing that she would be more prepared to face whatever trials come upon her if she’s given life experience.
As her sixteenth birthday approaches, it would seem that Oswald’s plan has worked a little too well. Because Aurore is destined to fall into a one hundred year sleep, the magic in the land causes chaos when this in fact does not happen. Concerned for the wellbeing of her people, though dreading the thought of the curse’s fulfillment, Aurore decides to enter the mysterious forest that fringes the kingdom in the hopes of finding an answer there, only to find a young prince who claims to be on the way to the centre of the forest — where a sleeping princess is said to wait for true love’s kiss.
I was intrigued by how Dokey was going to tackle the one-hundred years sleep considering that there’s nothing more boring than watching a person sleep, but she manages to come up with an extremely clever (and poignant) way of granting the passage of time without Aurore losing consciousness. I’m not a huge fan of first-person narrative, but Dokey keeps Aurore’s voice brisk and chatty, and captures both her underlying dread of sleeping for one hundred years and the general personality traits of impatience, intuition and altruism.
Dokey is also good at creating the atmosphere of a fairytale, such as the warmth of the villagers; the cold intrigues of the court; and the beauty of the forest, filled with mysterious cottages, winding hedge mazes, and a valley of apple trees arranged to form a pattern. As she did in Belle, Dokey has a knack for describing the natural world tinged with enchantment; and a definition of this world’s magic and its effect on Aurore’s curse provides food for thought.
A couple of plot points are raised only to go nowhere (such as the two fairies that cast the spell in the first place, as well as a young woman who approaches Oswald with hints that her family can benefit his ambition) but on the whole Beauty Sleep hangs together nicely, with some very good ideas at work, and a surprising end in regards to where Aurore’s heart truly lies.
Although the Once Upon a Time novels are largely forgettable and (with the exception of K.Y. Craft’s stunning cover art) somewhat cheap in both price and quality (the amount of typos you’ll find in any given edition indicates that only a rudimentary edit was given to each one), it seems pointless to give them a low rating when their purpose is to simply entertain. And entertaining they are.