“She But Sleepeth” by Rachel Heffington

Peles Castle, Romania — courtesy of Gabi Jguma/Wikipedia

Sleeping Beauty is a set designer working for Hollywood. A Romanian gypsy casts spells of time-travel and death. An estranged royal couple mourn the loss of their only child. And the hunky love interest exhibits self-sacrificial love.

Yet, for whatever confluence of cosmic misdemeanors, all the raging richness of this story potential totally fizzled when it hit the dour surface of my consciousness.

It started off well enough, with foreshadowing of darkness and a few sinister characters to eye suspiciously.

Maria, the protagonist, should have been relatable. An insomniac, she’s desperate to visit a particular Romanian palace for set research, certain it will help her sleep. (I can personally relate, although I am subclinical.)

However, she came across as self-focused, manipulative, and totally under the sway of her “assistant”: a hunky, self-confident answer-man that she relies on heavily and whose company she desires, but whom she doesn’t realize she loves.

Maybe it just wasn’t my genre.

Heath (said aforementioned supportive intern/love interest) has a compelling backstory. He also drives the plot when his “boss” Maria goes missing via magic, determined to find and recover her at whatever cost.

The villainess is appropriately loathsome, powerful, and blinded by rage. Her vendetta against a 19th century king and queen reach forward through the turmoil of 20th century history to disturb the modern-day American: Maria. Unfortunately, her minions and the other aspects of her organization aren’t fleshed out to my full satisfaction.

The story does have passages that shine. Instances of description are especially atmospheric and evocative, and the countryside and castle where the story unfolds would be great to visit.

I wish I could say the same for the philosophizing. For some reason (misalignment of stars, perhaps) the passage of Heath musing on what effects one girl’s translocation in time will produce (classic time-travel moralizing) comes a little short. Perhaps it’s too classic, and – while it covers valid turf – it’s turf that’s been surveyed by other authors before. I think my reaction had more to do with the over-lapping of a mind-control aspect (never a favorite element of mine at the best of times) which in this story really struggled to engage me – perhaps because the genius hero straight-up put his foot in that trap.

I’m not denying that mind-control can be written engagingly, but that was not this story for me. Perhaps it was my perception of the general cluelessness of the characters, but the moments that should have been tense with betrayal simply lagged with melodrama.

Finally, the closing philosophizing was not my cup of tea at all. Instead of tying up loose ends with minor characters or making clear statements about the aftermath of the adventure, Maria moons and ponders the Power of Love, despite the lack of a classic HEA (Happily Ever After).

(Also, the heroine doesn’t defeat the villainess. If not for the Deus in the Machina, she would have been toast.)

Perhaps different circumstances, perhaps different reading order, different handling, different characterization, different reader…and this could have been a compelling retelling. As it is, the characters did not resonate as people I would hang out with, and the narrative framework they inhabited was regrettably uneven in quality.

Language caution: a couple lines are either religious, blasphemous, or British; I’m not sure which.

Note: I read She But Sleepeth as part of the Once fairytale retelling collection, which I have yet to review as a whole.

She But Sleepeth can be found as part of the Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales collection.

The author’s Amazon page is HERE. She can also be found on Facebook.

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