Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: the True Tale of Sleeping Beauty, by Jane Yolen (Philomel, middle grade, Nov. 2012), has a somewhat misleading title. It is actually the tale of the family of fairies who came to the christining, and how the princess ended up falling into her enchanted sleep. And more particularly, it's the tale of the youngest daughter of this family, young Gorse.
Gorse was left home sick when the rest of her family--aunts, siblings, and parents (no uncles--they were humans and didn't stick around long, but Gorse's father is an elf, and stayed), troop off to the castle to fulfil their part in a bargain made with the human king long ago. The fairies swore an oath to do the bidding of the royal family, and bestowing Christening magic on the baby princess is part of the bargain.
But Gorse--thoughtful, brave, impetuous, and somewhat sickly--is horrified when she realizes she's been left home alone. Will she (and perhaps all her family) explode into light if the family oath isn't fulfilled because she isn't there? So off she goes by herself to the castle....only to fall into an underground maze. There a prince of the Unseely fairy court (Orybon), along with his sworn companion (Grey), and a clan of cave trolls (called "the McGargles" by the two fairy dudes) are were trapped underground by an imprisoning spell cast long ago (the trolls were innocent, unlucky, bystanders). Orybon could be free any time--all he has to do is truly repent the wickedness that he's being punished for, and then Grey and the McGargles would be free too. But repentance isn't actually on Orybon's agenda--he'd rather coerce Gorse into using her family's gift of magical shouting to batter a way through the locked gate to the upper world....
Not surprisingly, Gorse manages to save those who deserve saving, and makes it to the Christening, in time to see her mother cunningly work magic that will free her own family from their bondage to the human royals.
Surprisingly, Grey, once restored to the upper world, reverts to the age he was when he was first imprisoned--now he's a boy again, just a bit older than Gorse. And so, with this rather squicky implication that love will blossom despite the age weirdness, we leave them to their magic...
A few quick pluses--An imaginative look at a part of the Sleeping Beauty story that I've never seen looked at before. Plucky, intelligent, well-read heroine. Really cool magical book delivery system in which Gorse's father can reach into a magical book delivery slot and pull out random books, allowing Gorse to quote Through the Looking Glass.
My less plus-like thoughts: I just never do truly fall for Jane Yolen's books--they just never seem to me to fully deliver numinous enchantment, characters I can take to my heart, and truly gripping stories (and I do recognize that this is my issue--plenty of readers seem to love her just fine). In this case I was put off by how long it took for the story to actually start--there are seventy six pages of backstory in which Gorse is born, grows older, hears family stories, and tells things to the reader. Then she falls into the pit, and the pace picks up, albeit in a somewhat choppy fashion.
However, though the story now becomes genuinely interesting reading, the pit has its own problems. Although the relationship between Orybon and Grey was fraught with all sorts of dynamics (which is the sort of thing I appreciate), I can't really call it a masterpiece of subtle character building. And I know that I might be over-reacting, but I really didn't care for the patronizing, almost neo-Imperialist way the cave trolls are presented, both with the ridiculous name and the whole sense that I got of them as an exploited indigenous people, in an --isn't it nice that they can care about their families even though they are less than human-- way.
And finally, I was squicked out by Grey suddenly getting younger and loosing memories of what happened underground (which basically erases all of the character development that had happened in his life) and becoming a potential love interest for a girl who started things young enough to be his daughter.
I didn't mind reading it once, but I won't be reading it again.
The Book Brownie
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