Author: Heather Walter
Publisher: Del Rey
Published: 13 April 2021
Oh my word!! Not only was this book such an amazing retelling of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, but the world building, the characters, and the LGBTQ+ representation was wonderful as well. I’m just completely blown away by how much this book exceeded my expectations.
In the kingdom of Briar, Graces live to dole out charms and elixirs to the wealthy and nobles of the land, while the common people strain to feed themselves day to day. It’s a land of greed and materialism. Long ago, before the Graces existed, the humans kept trying to obtain the Fae’s gifts, their power and magic. It wasn’t until Leythana came and retrieved Oryn’s crown that the Fae’s made a pact with humans, but only with Leythana’s line. The Vila, dark Fae’s for lack of a better term, cursed Leythana’s line. Of course, the Fae slightly mitigated the curse that the Vila cast on Leythanan’s line. Each daughter would have 21 years to find true love or die. Alyce doesn’t think much of this. She’s the only surviving Vila left forced into service by the Briar King and the ambassador of the Fae, Endliwild. Yet, by a twist of fate Alyce and Aurora, the last descendant of Leythana meet, and create a pact to try to break the curse without having Aurora kiss any other prince. Soon Alyce begins to fall in love. But it can never be that easy, can it? Because Aurora is the princess….and Alyce, Alyce is the villain.
I’m going to break this review down into 3 main categories that I want to talk about, to make it easier to follow: world-building, characters, and themes.
Wow! One of the most impressive parts of Walter’s book is that it wasn’t a strict retelling of the Sleeping Beauty Maleficent storyline. IN actuality, the name Maleficent is not actually named in the book. The closest the author comes to it is the cruel nickname that one of Alyce’s “sisters” (one of the other Graces) bestows on her “Malyce.” Walter truly did take the Sleeping Beauty story and created her own version, while still remaining loyal to the themes and ideas we know. There is still the spindle that curses Aurora at the end. There is still the ostracization of Alyce (Maleficent) in the book. Of course, in the story we actually know the princess and the fae do not fall in love. Disney’s live-action Sleeping Beauty did give us a new version as well by showing the love a mother has for her daughter. In this one, we see the romantic love bloom between Alyce and Aurora.
The world-building for the rest was so well-detailed and expansive. The storyline of the war between the Fae and Vila that started everything and would eventually lead to Alyce’s downfall. How Briar is ruled by Queens who over the years gave more and more of their power over to their husbands, becoming nothing more than figureheads. The Grace system that was put into place when the Fae and Humans created their alliance. The Fae give certain humans their power, in turn they are able to create elixirs and potions for patrons. Of course, over the years this system too has become corrupted and twisted. As I was reading, I could definitely see that great time and effort was taken to fully flesh out the world that Walter built.
I love, love, love Alyce!! I do. I saw so much of myself in Alyce, from the way she is treated by society to her anger and rage by the end. There are many times when I just want to burn it all down because they do not deserve anything. Alyce was such a complicated and wonderful character. There were many characters throughout the story who were complicated and again, it shows the strength of Walter’s writing that none of these characters were flat (except maybe the King but eh, you can’t win them all). With Aurora, she’s so young and naïve in her viewpoint of how to rule and what will happen when she takes the crown. Mariel is someone who deeply loves her daughter but when I was reading the parts with her in it, you can feel frustration leaking off of her in waves. It felt like she didn’t even know how she got to this point of being married to a man who broke her curse one day and took all of her power now. Laurel the only Grace who was kind to Alyce had layers to her as well, and definitely has me considering some ethical conversations about right, wrong, and the greater good. Even the Graces you don’t like, Rose and Marigold, are more than what they seem through trying so hard to hold on to this fleeting power because it’s all that matters.
These characters were not lovable at all times nor were they supposed to be because people aren’t lovable at all times. They’re complicated and ugly and gray and so, so beautiful.
The last part to bring up is themes which I did start touching on in the characters section. There are many themes a reader can pick out of this book. From the idea of good vs. evil, to ostracization and otherness, to the question of is it okay to hurt the one to save the many. There is no shortage of themes in this book to choose from. I particularly want to focus on the ostracization of the other because that was obviously a big one that the author focused on.
As someone who lives in a world that ostracizes people who are not white, straight, cis-gendered, I completely felt much of the pain that Alyce felt throughout the book. The horror inflicted on me was not nearly to the extent that Alyce had to go through as a child, but the psychological and emotional pain is still there and one I struggle with. It’s also telling how much Alyce does grow throughout the book, how much she changes and reconsiders her viewpoints once Aurora comes into her life.
Before Aurora, Alyce was ready to cast Briar away. To leave the place that had tortured her and never look back. But then Aurora changes it all. Call it love or foolishness but Alyce does see that burning everything to the ground out of vengeance does not always solve our problems. She just needed one person, someone, anyone to truly see her. Not as Vila or a monster or mongrel or abomination or any of the cruel words they threw at her her whole life. She just wanted someone to see Alyce, just Alyce and love her anyway. Yet, even in the end they couldn’t do that. They couldn’t listen to what really happened and take her word for it. Alyce is the monster. That’s what they’ve been told. That’s what they believe, so that’s what she becomes, because what’s the point anymore. They’re not going to change their minds, so she might as well burn it to the ground.
Happy Reading Darlings!