Once Upon A Dream
A Twisted Tale, #2
Disney Book Group
Release Date: April 5th 2016
I'd like to thank NetGalley and Disney Book Group for giving me access to an ARC of this book in return for an honest review.
If you haven't heard about the Twisted Tale series, here's the low down. Disney and author Liz Braswell are taking the stories of classic Disney films and giving them a twist. (You can check out my review for the first book, A Whole New World, in which Liz Braswell shows us what might have happened if Jafar had gotten hold of the Genie's lamp at the Cave of Wonders.)
I LOVE THIS IDEA. Being a fan of fairy tale retellings, Disney, and 'what ifs', it's no wonder. But I've been burned by Disney retellings before (Fairest of All) and, while A Whole New World was fun, it did fall a little short of the mark for me, getting only 3 stars. Add to that the...interesting take on Sleeping Beauty we saw in Maleficent and, yeah, I was a little wary when I started Once Upon A Dream.
This retelling is fantastic.
I didn't realize it at first, because the beginning of the book -specifically Aurora's situation- threw me off guard. While I liked Maleficent as a story, I did not like it as a branch off or the 'true' story of Disney's Sleeping Beauty and I honestly thought this was going to be much, much worse. After about 50 pages of banging my head against a wall, the twist came (setting up the entire novel, might I add) and all was saved. So, if you don't like this in the beginning, believe me when I say just KEEP READING.
What really made this story for me was how Braswell essentially took every story flaw and every pointed remark anyone has probably ever made about Sleeping Beauty and its characters and turned it into story fuel. Like, why on earth would the King and Queen think it would be a good idea to send their child to live with fairies for sixteen years?
I'm not terribly picky about the animated film, because it's something I've grown up with. It's a classic. But I love that Braswell took the challenge to infuse this story with good character development and bring us a princess finding her way from damsel in distress to competent young woman.
Unlike A Whole New World, which presented the twist at nearly the beginning of the Aladdin story, Once Upon A Dream doesn't begin until the moment Prince Phillip kisses his princess awake. That's when the princess doesn't wake up. I think I preferred the twist toward the end, because it is able to build off the source material we're familiar with and this story felt much more natural than its predecessor.
Braswell tackles Aurora's personality with zeal; she doesn't give the princess a face lift or try to mock up an existing personality that could have been hiding somewhere in the film. She instead takes the idea that Aurora has literally done nothing with her life and gives us a princess who suffers from lethargy, who is just beginning to realize she doesn't know much about anything, and is possibly even struggling depression. Braswell doesn't jump right in giving Aurora all of these struggles; it's a slow development on the princess as she tries to learn who she is and what the world is really like outside of her sheltered upbringing.
This take on Aurora's character is not the only thing going for this book, but is certainly the driving factor of my joy in it. Braswell masterfully bridged the gap between yesterday's 'damsel in distress' and today's 'empowered woman', without missing a beat of teen angst on the princess's journey to find herself.
Beside Aurora, Maleficent's character was equally satisfying. Braswell manages to shine a light of humanity toward the Mistress of All Evil while still keeping her completely true to the original film and all her, well, evil glory. Here's a stamp of Villain Approval, Liz Braswell, for showing us you can craft a true villain whom we can sympathize without giving them some misunderstood back story.
Phillip's character irked me a bit initially, just because he acts a little too much like a modern teenager, especially his vocabulary, and that doesn't jive with the Phillip I remember. He did grow on me through the book, so I gave him a pass.
The world building inserted elements like references to the Catholic church and King Arthur legends that landed it squarely in a European setting. I have not yet reached a verdict about this addition.
On the one hand, alluding to such familiar things helps to ground it closer to our reality. Sleeping Beauty did originate in Europe, so it makes sense to treat it as some extension of Europe.
On the other hand... I always picture fairy tales taking place in a very specific world. (There's a reason the show Once Upon A Time refers to the 'fairy tale world' broadly as the Enchanted Forest.) Placing these seeds of reality -like morning and afternoon prayers and using garlic to ward off demons- took this out of the magical world I was familiar with and slammed it down somewhere between the Enchanted Forest and reality.
So these allusions were both kind of cool and kind of jarring at the same time. There aren't very many instances, so it's not a make or break kind of detail.
The plot is intriguing and captivating. For reasons I won't spoil, the entire story is centralized on and interwoven with Aurora's character development, which will deepen the layers of any story. While Braswell's Aladdin retelling left me a little underwhelmed, she expounds on so many unanswered, unchallenged, or unexplained elements in the Sleeping Beauty tale that she not only made this retelling compelling and interesting interesting, but within its pages she actually convinced me it was a story that needed to be told.
My one true disappointment lies with the 'happily ever after' of this story, the quote/unquote epilogue. (Don't worry -the ending is good. It's solid, satisfying, and exactly what the tale needs.)
I am a sucker for the romantic side of fairy tales. Love At First Sight, True Love's Kiss, Love Conquers All. Braswell messes with each one of these fairy tale staples; for the most part, it was fun watching these ideals squirm under realistic scrutiny, but it was really the closing lines of the book that got under my skin, because it stepped a little too far out of the fairy tale box for my liking. I mentioned before that Braswell masterfully bridges the gap between 'damsel in distress' and 'empowered woman', but I think in the last pages she pushed too much on the empowerment side and left the fairy tale soul of the story short.
This bit sounds harsh, I know, but keep in mind that despite this ending disappointment, the book still scored 4/5 stars and gets high-praise for a fantastically done retelling.
I could say a lot more about Once Upon A Dream, but I've probably said more than enough. Suffice to say, Braswell works a magical spin on Sleeping Beauty that works and satisfies. It's definitely worth reading.
Bonus: Lana Del Rey's chilling cover of Once Upon a Dream from the Maleficent soundtrack makes the perfect listening music for this book, not only for its obvious correlation to Sleeping Beauty, but because its foreboding and creepy sound make a great pairing for the overall plot.
What's your favorite Sleeping Beauty story?