The Tradition is back in full force, once more messing up the lives of everyone it ensnares in the latest Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms novel by Mercedes Lackey. For bookworms new to the series, each novel is a stand-alone fairy tale taking place in one of the Five Hundred Kingdoms. The Kingdoms are full of an ancient magic called The Tradition, which steers its inhabitants down traditional story paths. A girl with a stepmother and stepsisters will most likely be pushed into becoming an Ella Cinders in order to find her happily ever after. Sometimes, her prince might be too old, too young, already married, etc. The Tradition can’t always create a happily ever after for everyone.
The fifth and latest book in the series, The Sleeping Beauty, sounds like it will be about a Beauty Asleep who pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and sleeps for years, but it isn’t. While Princess Rosa was born with the fair looks of a Beauty Asleep, she’s no longer eligible for this path once her mother dies. The Tradition tries to make her father fall for an evil sorceress, which would put her on an Ella Cinders path, but the kingdom of Eltaria’s fairy godmother, Lily, disguises herself and marries the King in order to keep the realm safe. Not liking the twist on what it wants, The Tradition tries again, this time forcing Rosa on a Snowskin path. Something goes wrong, however, and the seven dwarves who find her lock her up and treat her like a slave. After she’s saved, the magic begins to level out and the novel becomes more concise. A third Traditional path is introduced, this one by the fairy godmother herself. Because Eltaria is a rich country, the neighboring kingdoms are always invading. In order to keep the land from falling into enemy hands after the king dies, Godmother Lily creates a tournament so that princes far and wide will come in an attempt to win Rosa’s hand. This will also keep Eltaria from being attacked by its neighbors.
The plan works well, and three suitors in particular stand out: Leopold, who steals many of the book's comedic moments, Seigfried, a hero on his own Traditional path steeped in Norse Mythology, and Desmond, who is full of mystery and secrets. Rosa finds herself leaning toward these three princes and hoping one of them will win the tournament. In addition, Rosa begins taking lessons from Godmother Lily for in case she has the magic necessary to be a Queen Godmother, which would be much-appreciated in her kingdom, which is constantly pouring out new Traditional stories.
The Fairy Godmother remains my favorite title in this series, perhaps because I read it first. I loved the way it told the tale of an Ella Cinders whose prince was too young and the way she chose to instead become a fairy godmother. In the process, she defied The Tradition every step of the way and even created her own, unheard-of happily ever after. The Sleeping Beauty, on the other hand, took a while to find its voice. There were a lot of tales and paths twisted together in this novel, making it hard to get into right away. The novel becomes stronger when the tournament is introduced. Characters are fleshed out more and Princess Rosa becomes much stronger and more interesting. I liked the fact that this novel once more had a lot of focus on the godmother’s role and that, in a way, Godmother Lily made her own story by taking a non-traditional route toward happiness. I really liked the inclusion of Norse Mythology and the fact that one of the suitors, Seigfried, was a hero. Not only that, he was an all-around good guy. He fulfilled a couple of other Traditional elements as well, such as freeing animals in trouble, which could then later help everyone in times of trouble. At first, I didn’t think I’d care for Leopold, but he really deepened as a character. He always lightened the mood and was much more intelligent than I originally thought. Desmond always kept me on my toes. He always seemed too perfect, which made me wonder if there was more to him than what met the eyes. While The Sleeping Beauty took longer to get into than other books in the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, once the novel focused and settled down, it became quite enjoyable. As with the other books in this line, I appreciate the way Lackey takes tales we all know and love, twists them into something else, then flips it all on its head, creating a story that’s unique and goes against Tradition.
I love when series remain consistent. The Sleeping Beauty matches the design of other books in the series, from the gold embossing to the close-up of the heroine in the foreground with a love interest lurking in the background. The back cover once more takes on a more solid color with a pretty gold frame and lots of blurbs. The cover model doesn’t look like Rosa, who has golden hair, nor is she a Beauty Asleep, the way you would think looking at the way she’s yawning—and heck, even going by the novel’s title. I love the roses behind her and the fact that this is most likely why she’s wearing a deep pink dress and the background takes on a pink hue. I also like the fabric of her dress; it looks like crushed velvet, with sleeves that billow out like a kimono. The edging is pink and gold, matching the cover colors, and there’s a pattern of roses that replicates the flowers behind the model. The male model in the background looks like a dashing knight stepping out of the forest, the sun shining down on him. Overall, the design is a bit misleading, but it’s put together in an eye-catching way.
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