In the Five Hundred Kingdoms, fairy tales are alive and well, thanks to the power of the Tradition. Like an all-powerful theatre producer, it makes sure that things go according to certain tropes and themes. Princes are handsome and noble, Princesses are beautiful and virtuous, Stepmothers are often Wicked, and so on. It’s a way of life. Be nice to strange beggar women, in case they can curse or bless you. Don’t get lost in the woods. Mind your wishes.
In the tiny kingdom of Eltaria, the Tradition is building its power, ready to strike and force the beautiful Princess Rosamund into the Beauty Asleep path. You know the one: she pricks her finger, and everyone takes a long nap until true love’s kiss shows up. The resident Fairy Godmother, Lily, isn’t about to let this happen. Eltaria has lots of greedy neighbors, and can’t afford to take a century off for some beauty sleep. So Lily hits on a plan. One masquerade as the Evil Stepmother later, and she’s invited dozens of princes and adventurers to come spend some quality time in Eltaria, to compete for Lily’s hand in marriage. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And then there’s Siegfried, who’s on the run from the Tradition. His destiny is to fall in love with a sleeping woman surrounded by fire … who may just be his aunt. And it’s supposed to end badly for all involved. Gods, fat ladies singing, spears and magic rings, you name it. He’s ready to opt out, but the Tradition doesn’t let go that easily.
And then there’s Leopold, a charming rake of a prince who’s doing his best to party across the kingdoms without actually settling down. Toss those two princes into the mix, along with someone willing to do whatever it takes to control Rosamund, and you have yourself one royal mess. It’ll take all of Lily and Rosamund’s cleverness, and a lot of magic, and some help from the Tradition itself, to set this right.
Ostensibly a romantic comedy, this actually exists on a self-aware, metatextual level. Not only are we aware of the active fairy tale tropes, but so are the characters, who work to fulfill, thwart, or redirect them at every turn. It’s as though the Aarne-Thompson classification system was alive, all-powerful, and really bored. Here, because all three stories feature sleeping princesses, we see Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and the Wagnerian Siegfried saga clash and crossover. It’s a little bit loony, a little bit ludicrous, a little too clever for its own good, and yet it works. Maybe a little awkwardly at times, but the pieces do fit, thanks to Lackey’s familiarity with the material and ability to juggle various elements.
In the end, while this certainly won’t change lives or push boundaries, it does deliver something new and entertaining, drawing from the classic fairy tale elements to examine them in a whole new light. It’s fun, and enjoyable, and satisfactory. You can do a lot worse if you need some light reading.
(Harlequin Luna, 2010)