Cursed by Christening Gifts

My quest for retold fairy tales most recently brought me to Sleeping Helena by Erzebet Yellowboy. As you can probably guess from the title, it was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.  And it was…an odd one.

Helena has eight aunts, who all give her special gifts at her christening.  Six offer her well-meaning things like beauty and dancing ability.  One issues a complicated prophecy that seems to predict death.  And the eighth uses her gift to try to undo the curse.  Seven of the aunts raise Helena together, while desperately trying to protect her from the curse.  As the book goes on, we realize that the aunt who issued the curse, Katza, has more complicated motives than it seemed.  It’s all tied into the tragic death of their brother, a century before.

Yes, they have a brother who died a hundred years ago.  Everyone in the family is blessed (or cursed) with extraordinarily long life, which is the first place this starts to get odd.  It’s a little disconcerting when most of the characters are 105 or thereabouts.  Especially when they haven’t been given youth–they really are 105, and apparently feel that way.  I have nothing against elderly characters, but it makes it kind of hard to relate to.

It’s also rather depressing to think about seven sisters living together from childhood into old age, and if any of them ever got married or formed any meaningful attachments outside of their family group, we don’t hear about them.

The purpose of it is so that Helena’s sixteenth birthday can be exactly 100 years after Katza’s sixteenth birthday, which is also when their brother died tragically.  So you get Sleeping Beauty’s hundred years–but going back from the day the curse strikes, instead of forward.

Helena is the most interesting character, although more as a concept than as a person.  I love the way this examines what it would be like to have eight christening gifts.  Helena is so filled with her gifts, there’s no room in her personality for anything else (and they forgot to give her compassion or sympathy or kindness…)  She is utterly absorbed in herself and her gifts, which are constantly clamoring at her to be used–she wants always to dance, to sing, to admire her beauty, and so on.  In some ways, they seem more like curses than the curse.

This does take some interesting turns, and I particularly liked the flashbacks to Katza and her brother, Louis, when they were young.  I ended up disappointed by the ending, though.  I won’t give away the details, but essentially just when it was getting to something really interesting–it ended.

I have to come down somewhere in the middle on this one.  It wasn’t so bad that I’ll talk a friend out of buying it (The Frog Princessactually, she was going to buy one of the sequels and I convinced her it was a terrible idea) or so good that I’ll push it on friends (Robin McKinley–anything by her, really).  It was okay.  So if you have a particular fondness for Sleeping Beauty or some of the elements sound especially interesting, you could give it a try.

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