Gollancz, out now
A prince, whose parents want him to start acting more responsibly, is sent on a quest – but finds far more than he bargained for…
Think of “beauty” with regard to fairy tales, and two stories instantly come to mind; talk about characters who undergo a long sleep, and much the same applies. In the final*, and to my mind best, book in her fairy tale trilogy, Sarah Pinborough extracts aspects from all the various stories to create a tale that doesn’t just apply modern attitudes to the fables, but also some psychological theorising.
It’s another tale as old as time: boy meets girl, boy wakes girl from a long sleep, they fall in love. But when the girl has a deep-seated problem which means that there’s a whole other side to her, the boy gets a ringside seat at a bacchanalian and sanguinary orgy that would put Lucrezia Borgia or Countess Bathory to shame (and puts the World Fantasy Convention banquet in perspective!).
Pinborough doesn’t hesitate to rework the characters to suit her story’s purposes: one particular ‘villain’ is anything but in this retelling, and is one of the more sympathetic characters she’s portrayed in the trilogy. Familiar faces reappear, and it will be interesting to read the trilogy in the order intended to see the full scope of her vision of these kingdoms.
Once again, Les Edwards has provided some gorgeous illustrations, and it would be great at some stage to see some full-colour renditions.
Verdict: Even more twists than its predecessors means that familiarity with the fairy tales won’t necessarily help you be one jump ahead in this excellent conclusion. 8/10
*NB – for readers coming to these stories in the paperback editions, they are being released in chronological order, so this is the first one: you’ve not missed the other two yet.