by Lila Dubois, historical/fantasy (2010)
Liquid Silver Books, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-59578-676-0
In modern versions of fairy tales, it is inevitable that somehow, the character formerly cast as the villain becomes reshaped into a not-so-bad person after all. I am tempted to blame this on the popularity of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, but I suspect that doing so will be oversimplifying the situation.
In Briar Rose, Lila Dubois's re-imagining of the story of Sleeping Beauty, once upon a time in a fantasy kingdom, four witches attend the celebration of the arrival of the new Princess of the realm into the world. The first three witches are patterned after our benign fairy godmothers, but in this version, their supposedly benevolent gifts to the Princess are designed to impress the King and Queen. Princess Aurora is given the gift of beauty, grace, and obedience.
As you can imagine, the gift of obedience is the killer - poor Aurora will be doomed to become a dutiful daughter, having no wishes, desires, or ambitions of her own. The fourth witch, the dark one feared by all, feels compelled to step up and offer a gift of her own to Aurora after listening to the other witches' gifts. Her gift will be a bracelet of gold for Aurora. This bracelet will bind the other three gifts, and should Aurora prick herself on the thorn of a briar rose and cause her blood to spill onto the bracelet, the other witches' gifts will be broken. The dark witch considers this gift of hers as the most precious of all, because she has given Aurora the gift to follow her heart's desire rather than to become the person that other people want her to be.
As the years pass, Aurora grows up to become a dreadfully boring person with apparently no will of her own. Her betrothed, Prince Phillip, thinks of her as nothing more than a puppet who jumps to her father's every command. He is, needless to say, not looking forward to their upcoming politically-motivated marriage. During a visit, Phillip offers Aurora a briar rose. She pricks her finger on a thorn soon after, and oops. That is how Aurora comes to her senses and spends the next seven years running wild, defying her father and, as Briar Rose, sleeping with every young lad that catches her fancy when she's not playing pookie with Millie, the dark witch.
The fun starts when the time has arrived for Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora to get married.
Briar Rose is best read as a rather campy feminist version of Sleeping Beauty because the romance is on the half-baked side, with both characters deciding that they are so in love after boinking each other's brain out. Their romance doesn't get developed beyond that point - the rest of the plot deals with external conflicts thrown their way when they are not busy shagging. When it comes to letting our heroine become her own woman and making her own choices, the plot eventually takes a few steps backward as well when Aurora eventually decides to play the martyr in the name of love. Cool feminists don't become martyrs, they kick back the lemons tossed their way.
As a quick read, this one is a well-written and pretty entertaining one with some hot scenes thrown into the mix. But the underdeveloped romance also means that I am not sure whether I can consider this one a good romance story.
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