Goodreads: Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters
Princess Aurora and her sister Luna live in an isolated castle by the sea where all sharp objects are forbidden. Like their mother, Aurora suffers under a curse cast when she was a baby: if she touches a sharp object, she will sleep for a hundred years. When the curse takes hold despite all their precautions, Aurora and Luna set off on a quest to find their fairy godmother and change their fate.
I accepted long ago that Diane Zahler’s fairytale retellings lack much depth or subtlety. One could argue that the intended audience justifies a more streamlined approach, though many middle grade books manage to address difficult themes and to introduce complex or even troubled characters while remaining age-appropriate. Still, I have to take Zahler’s books as they are and, while they never impress me enough to make me want to reread them, they serve me well when I want something pleasant and light.
I began Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters knowing I should expect a simple tale featuring standard characters and a plot line that closely adhered to the original story; however, the book still proved a bit of a disappointment after The Thirteenth Princess and A True Princess. While Zahler’s books never struck me as highly original (The Thirteenth Princess, for instance, merely adds the titular thirteenth daughter to the story of “the Twelve Dancing Princesses”), I certainly did not expect Sleeping Beauty’s daughter to suffer from the same curse cast by the same fairy. After all, would not the solution to this problem be the same as it was the first time?
Certainly Zahler tries to mix things up by adding a quest and a sister for Aurora. She even takes modern sensibilities into account and has the hero journey with Aurora so they can get to know each other, rather than fall in love at first sight or just get married because that’s what one does when a stranger awakens you from sleep with a kiss. The additions, however, are not executed with any degree of uniqueness. The quest—a journey by boat to an island while facing sea monsters and stuff—reminded me of plenty of quests I have seen before. The sisters and their relationship is old—Aurora is pretty, good, and a bit vain and thus clashes with her more casual and mischievous younger sibling. The hero. Well, he’s all right, but since none of the characters received much attention, I never felt that I knew him and thus I could not really cheer him on.
I might have overlooked the abundance of overused plot points, except that the entire story hinged on the fact that, in a book filled with recycled elements, the characters actually all forgot they could just modify the second curse in the same manner as they had the first. It seems silly enough that the evil fairy would try the same trick after her first ignominious defeat, but then I’m also supposed to believe that all the characters just threw up their hands and bewailed their fates when she did so? The story is built on a faulty premise and it bothered me the entire time I was reading.
I still plan to continue reading Zahler’s retellings. I like fairytale retellings and I think it’s hard to destroy them completely since the stories on which they are based speak so strongly to readers. However, the market currently seems to be overflowing with retellings many of them are much more compelling, much more original, and much more thought-provoking than the ones offered by Zahler. It may be time for Zahler to step up her game.