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Goats, gripes, and grasping for greatness
Books: The Sleeping Beauty, Mercedes Lackey version 
23rd-Aug-2010 01:20 pm
As I said on July 16, I owed a write-up of Lackey's Sleeping Beauty. Well, I wrote it up and submitted it into Geek Speak Magazine for the August issue.

The review as published:

In Short: It's a light read with unexpected moments of glee.
Recommended: Yes, sure!

"Ah!" said Jimson, finally. And then... "Oh, dear."

Sleeping Beauty is the fifth book in the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, and its release for light summer reading is well-timed. There is no hard work to read this book, no deep thinking, and assuredly no difficult plot twists to follow. It is a jaunt into fairy tale land, complete with a beautiful princess, a beloved-but-dead mother, a revered king, an evil huntsman, a wicked stepmother, talking animals, a hero, another hero, five hundred more heroes, a dragon, four more dragons, a herd of sheep…

Wait, sheep? Yes! It’s summer reading time, and Mercedes Lackey is at it again with the sheep jokes. If you are joining this series late, there is only one thing that you need to know in order to jump into it with this book instead of the beginning with The Fairy Godmother. In this series, Lackey takes the basic fairy tales (Cinderella, Snow White, etc.), adds some explanations of their original formulas, and then promptly twists them around. The fundamental theme of these books is that all fates and fortunes are guided by a mindless magical force called The Tradition. The Tradition wants peoples’ lives to follow the formulaic paths, but is agnostic when it comes to happy or tragic endings. It is up to the Fairy Godmothers, Heroes, and other Tradition-educated people to try to manipulate The Tradition into happy endings which may or may not fit the original formulae. Siding against them in this battle for the outcomes are the Sorcerers, Sorceresses, Evil Stepmothers, and their tribe of henchmen.

Here in Book 5, we are off to Eltaria, a rich but small kingdom with a beautiful queen and beloved king. Here, the princess Rosamund is destined to be yet another Snow White. Sleeping Beauty. Whatever. The book isn’t very clear on where or why she is going to have to be either, except that her mom is tragically dead right at the outset, setting up the entrance for The Evil Stepmother. With five bordering kingdoms slavering for the chance to invade, both Rosamund and her soon-dead father have to step lively and look sharp to protect their kingdom from being torn apart. On their side is Godmother Lily and her magic mirrors. Against them is a faceless fate of invasion and ruin that is endlessly discussed and never actualized. There is a lot of talk about tragedy, but it is glossed over in true tale format. Instead, Lackey revels in the cleverness of her various characters as they do their small-but-plot-turning activities such as freeing captive bears and sneaking around in enchanted cloaks to whisper words of advice.

No fairy tale is complete without a hero, and storming majestically out of the mountains is Seigfried the Norse, fleeing the Sleeping Woman tale of Dier Nibelungenlied. With the doom and gloom that accompany that crowd of gods, Seigfried is quite willing to take any other sleeping woman but her, thanks. So when he stumbles across Rosamund, asleep in the woods, he knows it is his chance to break out of his fate. Unfortunately for him, Leopold the Charming comes striding out of the woods at the same time and sees the princess -- and money! -- of his dreams. The ensuing brawl wakes Rosamund up, and everything goes off track from there. At this point, all of the fairy tale plot lines are suspect, but all plot devices are called to hand. Mice become horses, birds talk, impossible contests are presented to scores of suitors, and curses fly.

In this story, Lackey delivers entertainment in an airy style. For me, the best part of the story starts when the Godmother Lily and Rosamund work up properly Traditional contests for the scores of heroes, princes, and adventurers. One contest involves full sets of armor, magical horses, raw eggs, and herds of sheep. (Visualize that!) Regardless of fairy tale education, this story is appropriate for almost any audience with the vocabulary to read it. The few references to “ravishment” are made in happy context at the end of the story. The target audience is women who enjoy light fantasy-romance, and who prefer to know that everything is going to work out right from the beginning. The triple-shot of happy ending that Lackey throws down in the conclusion is an excellent way to close the story. The final chapter is more spun-sugar than necessary, but while I was rolling with laughter, I can’t say that I was honestly Expecting Someone Taller there at the end. Yes. You’ll get it when you read it.
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