The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder (ARC Review)


Goodreads: The Bone Spindle
Series: The Bone Spindle #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: PR Company for Review
Publication Date: January 11, 2022

Official Summary

Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones in this thrilling fairytale retelling for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and All the Stars and Teeth.

Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.

Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.

Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.

Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi–until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.

Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way–not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.

Set in a lush world inspired by beloved fairytales, The Bone Spindle is a fast-paced young adult fantasy full of adventure, romance, found family, and snark. 

Star Divider


The Bone Spindle promises an exciting adventure that’s half fairy tale, half treasure hunt, with multiple points of view and romance thrown in for all. The book is ambitious in its premise and its writing, and while I don’t think it always reached the heights it was aiming for, the overall product was an enjoyable read.

The opening of the book did not catch my attention. I wasn’t invested in either Shane or Fi as characters, and I often felt as if I were being told things about their characters rather than seeing them. Shane is a great warrior with a reputation, a “huntsman for hire,” though I never figured out what was supposed to make her a “huntsman,” exactly. Fi is a historian/treasure hunter with a mysterious past that’s haunting her. However, being told Shane is force to be reckoned with or told that Fi is brilliant is different from believing it, and it took me a while to warm up to them as characters. There is a lot of information and world building that needs to be shared. I admit I felt mildly bored by the whole thing, and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.

For me, the book really picks up with the introduction of Briar Rose. Although he’s under a sleeping spell, he’s often the most alive. I loved seeing the world through his eyes, his excitement about the quest and finally waking up and freeing his people, his pure belief that Fi and he are meant to be. He’s so in love with living that one can’t help be drawn in and think everything is beautiful and amazing, too, even when the characters are down on their luck or in danger. His adoration of Fi even convinced me she’s at least somewhat interesting as a character. I would read a whole book from his POV alone and enjoy it.

The plot also picks up once this “main quest” of breaking the curse picks up. I do think there are times the book reads the way I am plotting my own WIP, which is that whenever I get bored of writing the story I make something crazy and exciting happen, and the characters seem to get into quite a lot of sudden scrapes. But erring on the side of wild things happening every 50 pages is perhaps better than making nothing happen at all, and some of the scenes are quite entertaining. I do wish, however, that more of these obstacles and pitfalls were related to the main villain. The characters are constantly building up the villain who is going to stop them, who is going to put their entire quest in question, who is going to kill them before they get to end the curse . . . and I spent most of the book waiting for this person to bother making an appearance. It’s quite a letdown.

So, I found the story had a lot of highs and lows. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it as much as I was hoping, especially as I love YA fantasy and fairy tale retellings and lots of the elements that went into this book. However, there were times I gasped or laughed or wondered what would happen next, and the overall experience was positive. I do think I’m interested in reading the sequel, which is always a good sign.

3 Stars

A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas


Goodreads: A Wicked Thing
Series: A Wicked Thing #1
Source: Library
Published: 2015


One hundred years after pricking her finger, Aurora awakens to find herself betrothed to a prince she does not know and beloved by a people who believe she will save them all.  But Aurora has no idea whom to trust.  The king who may have committed unthinkable crimes?  The commoners who seem willing to kill?  A foreign prince who thinks far too highly of himself?  Uncertain and alone, Aurora determines to hope for the best.

Star Divider


At the beginning of A Wicked Thing, I was intrigued.  Rhiannon Thomas seems to be expanding on the traditional tale of “Sleeping Beauty” by imagining how disorienting it must be to wake up 100 years later being kissed by a stranger.  Missing her family and confused by the new court politics, Aurora finds herself being lead around by the royal family, who explain that she must marry the prince to fulfill the prophecy and ensure political stability.  Unfortunately, however, Aurora allows herself to be lead around by strangers for the entire duration of the book.  The lack of character development makes this book feel like it should have been half a book, the prelude to a climax and real character development–not merely the set-up for a sequel.

The truly baffling thing about this book, however, is that it seems to believe that character development actually happens.  (Spoilers for the end.)  Aurora is torn among three choices: marrying the prince and allying with the royal family, allying with rebels, or allying with a foreign nation.  Undecided about which is the best way to save her country, Aurora eventually makes a lackluster speech about how she needs to leave, then sneaks out of the city without a plan.  Readers are evidently supposed to be impressed that Aurora finally makes a decision by herself after 300 pages–but she really does not.  She has no destination and no thoughts on how to fix the political situation in her kingdom.  She is merely fleeing from her problems and hoping she doesn’t die alone in the wilderness until something fortuitously turns up.  This is incredibly unimpressive.

I think the idea of a confused Aurora could work really well for a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”  After all, waking up 100 years later would be very bewildering!  Politics, etiquette, social conventions, technology–it would likely all be different!  However, a book where the protagonist never takes true agency is not a very interesting read.  A Wicked Thing has a sequel, but it feels like the first book is a cheap set-up to force people to read it so they can finally see something happen.  That feeling makes me not want to read it.

2 star review

A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas

A Wicked Thing


Goodreads: A Wicked Thing
Series: A Wicked Thing #1
Source: Library
Published: February 24, 2015

Official Summary

One hundred years after falling asleep, Princess Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she should be living happily ever after. But as Aurora understands all too well, the truth is nothing like the fairy tale.

Her family is long dead. Her “true love” is a kind stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by political foes while she slept.

As Aurora struggles to make sense of her new world, she begins to fear that the curse has left its mark on her, a fiery and dangerous thing that might be as wicked as the witch who once ensnared her. With her wedding day drawing near, Aurora must make the ultimate decision on how to save her kingdom: marry the prince or run.


I was interested in reading A Wicked Thing pre-publication but eventually deferred it because I began seeing some lackluster reviews. However, I’m a huge fan of new takes on fairy tales, and I really enjoyed Thomas’s other book Long May She Reign, so I finally picked this up when I stumbled across it at the library. Overall, I have to agree with many of the reviews I saw that suggest the book is good but not great, but it was fun enough to read I think I’d still be interested in checking out the sequel.

The book starts out pretty slowly, as Aurora has just woken up from her cursed 100 year sleep and must adjust to living in a world where everyone she knows is dead and everything has changed. This might be a turn-off for some readers, I but I actually thought the slow immersion worked for the situation. I was more confused when the book suddenly became fast-paced, but with random events being thrown at the protagonist one after another.  A blurb on the cover talks about the amazing twists and turns; personally, I think there’s a fine line between a “twist” that was foreshadowed and unrelated, unpredictable things just happening in quick succession.

Aurora as a character doesn’t really save the book, either. She’s understandably lost when she first wakes up and no one will really tell her what’s going on in the world; they just want to use her for their own political advantage. However, she doesn’t really grow into her own throughout the book.  I sometimes think the focus on “character driven novels” in YA can get overblown and want to advocate for characters who aren’t overtly “badass, take charge of their own destiny females like Katniss” because there are different ways of being strong.  However, there is admittedly something boring about reading about a character who seems blown along by whatever wind passes and who believes things other people tell her that are obviously lies.

As for the romance, I think it’s best described as a love rectangle, and I’ll leave it at that.

And yet…there were things that were interesting and entertaining about this book. Maybe it’s actually the familiarity of some fantasy tropes, like a princess sneaking out dressed as a peasant to see her people.  Or something about the acknowledgement that simply waking up might not have automatically led to a happily ever after for Aurora. Or just that there was so much going on, even when it seemed arbitrary.  There seems to be a promise of dragons in the sequel, so I’m excited for that.  This isn’t the best book I’ve read in YA fantasy, but it was good enough.

3 Stars Briana

Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer

Spindle Fire


Goodreads: Spindle Fire
Series: Spindle Fire #1
Source: Library
Published: April 11, 2017

Official Summary

A kingdom burns. A princess sleeps. This is no fairy tale.

It all started with the burning of the spindles.


It all started with a curse…

Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and her voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood—and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.

As the faerie queen and her army of Vultures prepare to march, Isabelle must race to find a prince who can awaken her sister with the kiss of true love and seal their two kingdoms in an alliance against the queen.

Isabelle crosses land and sea; unearthly, thorny vines rise up the palace walls; and whispers of revolt travel in the ashes on the wind. The kingdom falls to ruin under layers of snow. Meanwhile, Aurora wakes up in a strange and enchanted world, where a mysterious hunter may be the secret to her escape…or the reason for her to stay.


Spindle Fire is one of those books that spoke to me and drew me in, even as I recognized its many flaws.  It’s a richly imaginative take on the “Sleeping Beauty” tale that brings together two sisters and makes readers question everything they thought they knew about the story.

Spindle Fire has mediocre reviews on Goodreads, and I can understand why.  Some of the book is cheesy (the villain lives in a country named La Mort), and much of it doesn’t really make sense—either because it’s completely unexplained or because the given explanation is illogical.  But still….

Somehow I managed to look past this, and I was captivated by the plot and by two sisters willing to give up much to help each other.  I see books pitched all the time as being about the love between sisters, but many of them fail to deliver for me.  Spindle Fire does not.  I truly believed in the relationship between Aurora and Isabelle and was rooting for them to succeed and stick together the whole time.

I was also fascinated by the hints of romance in the novel, thrilling yet complicated, hopeful yet hopeless.  A lot of YA romance throws two people together and then…that’s it.  True love.  Or it features an unrealistic love triangle, as if teenager girls are constantly fending off or deciding between multiple attractive suitors at once.  Spindle Fire asks if it’s possible to be attracted to more than one person, but in different ways, to be truly conflicted over abandoning your first love if you think you found someone with whom you truly click.

The magic system is also well-defined.  I liked the idea that Aurora is not simply given gifts by hordes of benevolent fairies.  Rather, there is a give and take, as I think there is in many of the most believable magic systems—in order for Aurora to receive a blessing, she must tithe something else to the fairies.  Admittedly, some of the more over-arching magic in the story seems a bit muddled and hand-wavy, but I thought some of the details at the most basic level were strong.

So, yes, I squinted past some parts of the book that were less than perfect.  But I enjoyed the characters and the plot, and I want to know what happens next.  This gets a recommendation from me.

4 stars Briana

Maleficent Surprised Me with Its Thoughtful Look at a Character’s Fall and Redemption

Discussion Post

When I first heard of Maleficent, I determined not to watch it.  Sleeping Beauty is my favorite Disney princess film (though I suppose Moana will have to be a close contender now) and I felt no need to see a remake when I value the film so much for its artistic beauty.  Furthermore, I was troubled by what I read of the decision to make Maleficent a sympathetic character.   Maleficent’s character in the animated film represents pure evil.  She explicitly announces that she has aligned herself with the powers of hell.  And Prince Philip defeats her with the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Virtue.  It is an allegory about the way in which virtue triumphs over sin.  I felt that giving Maleficent a sympathetic backstory would ruin the simplistic beauty of this message.  However, the other day I found myself watching Maleficent anyway.  I was immediately interested in the story the film has to tell.

Before I go father, it is important to note that Maleficent is not an attempt to rewrite Sleeping Beauty or to get viewers to sympathize with the villain of the animated film.  It does not say that what Maleficent does in Sleeping Beauty is right,  justified, or understandable.  Maleficent is its own version of the story, with its own characters (though they share names with the characters of the animated version), and its own world.  It stands next to Sleeping Beauty just as any number of other retellings stand beside it without asking their audiences to change their understanding of what happens in Disney’s animated film.  So I judge it on its own merits without comparing it to Sleeping Beauty.

Maleficent is, as its title suggests, not a story about Sleeping Beauty at all.  Rather, it is the story of how Maleficent’s innocence is shattered through betrayal and suffering, how she seeks revenge, and how she finally learns to love again.  It is the story of a fall and then a story of redemption.  In a way, it is the story of Cinderella, if Cinderella were not perpetually industrious, cheerful, and good, but instead turned bitter and vengeful as a result of her pain.  Cinderella turns outward and chooses love; Maleficent turns inward and chooses hate.  That hate takes her on dark paths that she is not sure how to escape.  In the end, Maleficent’s story teaches her that sin has consequences that are far-reaching and sometimes difficult to mend, even if you are truly sorry for the actions you have performed.

Despite this thoughtful exploration of the power of love, I have seen and heard  many criticisms about the decision of the film to have Maleficent wake Aurora rather than Prince Philip.  However, I think it is important to remember that a story that celebrates types of love other than the romantic does not by nature say that romantic love is therefore meaningless.  Rather, Maleficent reminds viewers that not only erotic love has the power to heal, to unite, or to seek forgiveness.  Maleficent might be read as the story of a mother’s love  and a celebration of the ways in which mothers sacrifice for their children to try to keep them safe.  A mother’s love does not replace erotic love.  It is different and separate.  But that does not mean it is not worth honoring.

Although I remain a little skeptical of Disney’s plans to remake seemingly all of their animated films, I have to admit that the remakes I have seen so far seem very thoughtful.  They are not the same stories but in live-action, but rather expansions of the old stories that ask viewers to consider other types of relationships.  Perhaps this will bother some viewers.  But we always have the animated films to enjoy, as well.

Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West


Goodreads: Kingdom of Ash and Briars
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 2016


When teenager Bristal is tossed into the cursed Water in the Woods, she expects to die. Instead, she emerges as an elicromancer, one of the most powerful magic workers to live in centuries. Yet power comes with a price, and Bristal is soon caught up in a plot of dark elicromancy that could lay waste to an entire kingdom if she fails to make all the right choices.  Threads of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and other classic tales emerge as Bristal fights for her people.


Kingdom of Ash and Briars is one of those books I really, really wanted to like but just couldn’t.  The jacket copy promises Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Mulan, all wrapped up in an overarching “gritty fairy tale gone wrong.”  This sounds excellent, but the way West goes about it is immeasurably disappointing, as none of the fairy tales in the book are given the time they really deserve.

West tries to cram a lot of action into a small space, and the result is extremely bad pacing.  Conflicts are all resolved within pages of being introduced.  There is no development, no suspense.  It’s all quite episodic and choppy.  This applies to some of the fairy tales,  as well.  The Cinderella aspect is a side note of about two chapters.  And, of course, that means characters are not developed either.  There is a of telling and very little showing because there simply is no time for it.  Instalove is a common issue.

[Minor Spoilers Next Paragraph]

Because of this, I was simply never really invested in Bristal or her issues. Of course, Bristal often seems barely invested in her own problems.  For instance, she is whisked away from her home to study magic once she becomes an elicromancer–and home never comes up again.  Apparently she wasn’t really attached to anyone she used to know.  I know she’s an orphan, but she was adopted and ought to have felt some responsibility towards her adoptive mother and any friends she had.  Even weirder, roughly 16 years pass between the start of the novel when Bristal gains her powers and the story proper.  This means Bristal must be roughly 30 years old, yet the book never drops the YA tone or the teenage voice for Bristal herself.  There was a huge disconnect for me here.

Finally, a lot of the story was simply cliche.  This was not because of the references to fairy tales, which could make any retelling “predictable” in some way.  It was simply that everything fit into a neat little pattern of perfection, in ways that are overused in fantasy in particular.  There are times cliches are satisfying, but I found this book just exhausting.

I was really looking forward to Kingdom of Ash and Briars.  I wish I had more good things to say.  Unfortunately, I wanted to DNF about 10 pages in and only finished because I was required to, having agreed to review the book for another site. I have to recommend passing on this one.

2 stars Briana

Sleeping Beauty Dreams Big by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Sleeping Beauty Dreams BigInformation

Goodreads: Sleeping Beauty Dreams Big
Series: Grimmtastic Girls #5
Source: Library
Published: January 2015


Briar Rose arrives at Grimm Academy determined to live life to the fullest before her twelfth birthday arrives and the curse laid on her at birth comes into effect.  However, her first days quickly turn from exciting to heartbreaking when the students start to believe she’s really a villain.  It looks like E.V.I.L. has managed to rewrite her story!  Can Rose convince her new friends that she’s really against E.V.I.L. or will she fall asleep for a hundred years first?


Sleeping Beauty is my favorite fairy tale and I was excited to see that the Grimmtastic Girls series had finally retold her story.  I decided quickly that I like Rose’s spunky nature (even though the idea of Sleeping Beauty cramming in life experience before her sleep is not new) and that her crush is sweet and kind and therefore a perfect match.  However, their tale was overshadowed by the plot holes that began to appear in the overaching storyline.  In the end, I could only think that Sleeping Beauty deserves so much more.

The story begins slowly enough, rehashing old plot points and even familiar details of the Grimm world–apparently Rose’s newness to the Academy means readers must wade through explanations of who prominent characters are and recaps of the past four books.  With these details out of the way, the story finally has the freedom to move forward, but it continues to do so sluggishly, repeating every few pages Rose’s thoughts on her curse, jousting, her family, and more.  The feeling of repetition never fades; Rose and her crush even seem to have a variation of the same conversation every time they meet.

Between Rose’s  musings on knighthood and her curse, the series plot slowly progresses, but this time it begins to raise troubling questions about how the world of Grimmlandia really works and why essentially no adults seem concerned about the reemergence of the E.V.I.L. Society.  It’s like Harry Potter, with schoolchildren repeatedly saving the world, while the adults stand by and watch–except in this case readers do not even have the certainty of knowing that Principal R. even knows what’s going on in his school.  The one adult who definitely does know what’s going on typically hides herself while directing twelve-year-olds to do her work.  She’s supposed to be the most powerful enchantress in Grimmlandia but she’s afraid to reveal herself?  Yet she’ll risk preteens?

Of course, even though the E.V.I.L. Society knows the identity of several of their enemies (Rapunzel, for example, blithely reveals her plan to thwart them in the last book, in a strange reversal of the explanatory speech usually given by foolish villains), they do nothing about it, so maybe the enchantress believes the kids ares safe.  One wonders if some sort of unwritten truce exists.  The good side, after all, knows the identities of several of the E.V.I.L. members, yet allows them to continue teaching the youth of Grimmlandia.  You might think that they want the villains where they can see them–yet the Academy holds the most powerful artifacts in the land and, by allowing the villains to teach there, the good side grants them easy access to all the magic they need to carry out their plots.

Or perhaps the good side can’t get rid of the villains at all since they belong in the fairy tales?  But that does not explain why the plot of this book features the students at the Academy shunning Rose when they believe her to be evil.  (Her story is rewritten to show her spitting up as a baby on the thirteenth fairy–truly villainous stuff there.) One can’t say that the kids avoid her because her parents are written as rude–the Queen of Hearts is rude but no one cares.  And Snow White’s stepmother is an well-known witch actually named Ms. Wicked, but no one holds that against Ms. Wicked or Snow.  Why are villains allowed to teach at the school–Snow White’s stepmother tries to murder her, after all!–but a girl who spat up on a fairy can’t be trusted?  No one explains.  In fact, it all just brings up another question–if the characters all know their fairy tales, why doesn’t Snow know that her stepmother is jealous of her and wants her dead?  Why are there so many gaping plot holes?

I still enjoy the Grimmtastic Girls series, but I need some of these questions to be answered fast.  I want to be able to focus on the characters and their personal journeys, rather than find myself preoccupied with attempting to wrap my head around the illogical plot elements.  I hope the sixth book will illuminate these matters, but I’m doubtful it will.

The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

The Castle Behind ThornsInformation

Goodreads: The Castle Behind Thorns
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: May 24, 2014

Official Summary

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside-from dishes to candles to apples-torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn’t this in the stories?

To survive, Sand does what he knows best-he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place?

Unexpectedly, Sand finds the lost heir, Perrotte, a girl who shares the castle’s astonishing secrets and dark history. Putting together the pieces-of stone and iron, and of a broken life-is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it’s the only way to gain their freedom, even with the help of the guardian saints.

With gorgeous language and breathtaking magic, Merrie Haskell’s The Castle Behind Thorns tells of the power of memory and story, forgiveness and strength, and the true gifts of craft and imagination.


Haskell puts a unique spin on the tale of “Sleeping Beauty,” featuring a young blacksmith as the protagonist (eventually joined by the Sleeping Beauty figure) and explaining the fantastical events of the story with religious miracles instead of magic.

The book opens with Sand’s awakening in the Sundered Castle, the home the local Countess’s family mysteriously abandoned after everything inside was torn in two. Unable to get through the malevolent thorn bush surrounding the castle and back to his home, Sand sets to work mending things.  Unknowingly, he even “mends” Perrotte, the castle’s heir—who has been dead for twenty-five years.

Readers immediately witness Sand’s ingenuity and perseverance, as he undauntedly takes on the task of repairing an entire castle.  Unfortunately, the beginning of The Castle Behind Thorns does not get more interesting than that.  The first half of the book is heavily filled with scenes of Sand’s fixing things.  Once Perrotte joins him, the book expands into scenes of both of them fixing things.  Frankly, the first part of this book is slow.

Some of the details add a little dimension and atmosphere to the early chapters, however.  Perrotte haltingly reflects on what it was like to be dead, which is both intriguing and just a bit dark.  Readers also get glimpses into the religious aspects of the story and the saints that the characters believe are influencing their lives and helping them mend the castle.

The pace picks up more completely about halfway through, as the plot reaches several crises/climaxes. Sand and Perrotte finally find their chance to get past the magic thorns, but it turns out that staying inside might actually be the safer option for both.  The book goes in all sorts of great directions at this point, pulling on miracles, diplomacy, family dynamics, and more.  Readers get both excitement and some meaningful reflections on life and family.

On one hand, The Castle Behind Thorns has a promising premise: children trapped in a magic castle!  On the other hand, it becomes apparent that, well, two children alone in a castle do not really have that many adventures (particularly if the castle is not dynamically magical like, say, the one in Jessica Day George’s Tuesdays at the Castle).  Furthermore, these children are generally likable and resourceful human beings, relatively at peace with their fate, so there are not even any dark psychological directions to go with the plot of their being trapped alone—maybe forever—in a castle.  (Or maybe we’re just not doing that because this is middle grade and dark psychological thrillers do not really have a market in this category.)

Once the book begins gathering steam, and readers can focus on something more than their desire for something interesting to happen, it becomes more apparently that The Castle Behind Thorns does feature realistic characters, meaningful reflections on death and the purpose of life, and explorations of what makes solid relationships.  This is not my favorite fairy tale retelling, despite its obvious ingenuity in playing with the plot of “Sleeping Beauty,” but I think avid fans of fairy tale retellings will find something to like about it anyway.

Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters by Diane Zahler

Sleeping Beauty's DaughtersInformation

Goodreads: Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: 2013


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.

If You Like Retellings of “Sleeping Beauty”, Then Read…

Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep by Gail Carson Levine

In this hilarious retelling of “Sleeping Beauty”, Princess Sonora is gifted at birth with Brilliance and spends all her time reading–after all, she can sleep later!  She fully intends to find the perfect time to prick her finger, but even the best plans go awry.  Will her knight in shining armor save her or will she be betrothed to one of the most boring princes ever?

smaller star divider

Waking Rose by Regina Doman

The third book of Regina Doman’s “Snow White and Rose Red” trilogy follows Rose Brier as she heads off to college and begins investigating a mysterious episode in her family’s past.  A modern retelling feature a reluctant prince, a drug-induced coma, and some wise religious sisters.

smaller star divider

The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

A unique retelling in which the protagonist is a young blacksmith who awakens in a castle torn in two, only to find he has the ability to mend things–even the castle’s dead heir.  This book  may appeal to readers who enjoy character-driven stories.  Read the review.

smaller star divider

Spindle Fire by Lexa Hilllyer

Spindle Fire focuses on the love between half-sisters Isabelle and Aurora, one tithed with the gift of sight and the other with the gift of touch.  When Aurora falls into a deep sleep, her sister goes on a quest to find the prince who can wake her.  A richly imaginative retelling.  Read Briana’s review here.

smaller star divider

Sleeping Beauty Dreams Big by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Briar Rose arrives at Grimm Academy determined to live life to the fullest before her twelfth birthday arrives and the curse laid on her at birth comes into effect. However, her first days quickly turn from exciting to heartbreaking when the students start to believe she’s really a villain. It looks like E.V.I.L. has managed to rewrite her story! Can Rose convince her new friends that she’s really against E.V.I.L. or will she fall asleep for a hundred years first?  Read the review.

smaller star divider

Thornspell by Helen Lowe

Prince Sigismund longs for an adventure like the ones he hears about in stories.  Then he begins having dreams about a girl trapped by thorns and his destiny begins to unfold.  But does he have what it takes to be a true hero?  “Sleeping Beauty” as told from the perspective of the prince.

smaller star divider

A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas

One hundred years after pricking her finger, Aurora awakens to find herself betrothed to a prince she does not know and beloved by a people who believe she will save them all. But Aurora has no idea whom to trust. The king who may have committed unthinkable crimes? The commoners who seem willing to kill? A foreign prince who thinks far too highly of himself? Uncertain and alone, Aurora determines to hope for the best.  An original retelling that focuses on what happens after the curse is broken.  Read Briana’s review.

smaller star divider

Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters by Diane Zahler

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.  Read Krysta’s review here.

smaller star divider

The Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker

Annie is the younger sister of the princess whom the world will come to know as Sleeping Beauty, but thanks to the chaos caused by her sister’s christening, Annie received a unique gift–magic has no effect on her.  When the curse strikes and the castle falls asleep, Annie determines to break the spell and save the kingdom.  She travels through various kingdoms seeking her sister’s true love with the help of her faithful guard Liam, but may unexpectedly find love herself.  Read Briana’s review.

smaller star divider

More Recommendations

Follow us: Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Facebook