Books Reviewed by CKT

Once Upon a Dream by Liz Braswell

Published by Paper Rocket

This is the traditional tale of Sleeping Beauty re-written in a very twisted way. Instead of waking up when the Prince kisses her, the Princess Aurora not only keeps on sleeping but draws the Prince into her own dream. In her dream, the Princess thinks she is living with her loving Aunt Maleficent in a castle that has been protected by the end of the world. The inhabitants of the castle think that the outside world has been destroyed and never venture beyond the protection of the thorns that cover the castle.

However, Maleficent is far from loving as she is actually the evil fairy who cursed the baby Princess at the party she wasn’t invited to and created the Sleeping Beauty in the first place. She only lives in the dream world but will become alive again in the real world if she can prevent Princess Aurora from waking up before her 16th birthday ends.

As in our dreams, the world of the dreams of the Princess are sometimes insubstantial, sometimes strange, and sometimes time dilated. Time moves much slower within the dreamworld, so Princess Aurora dreams of 19 years of life in the castle, while less than 24 hours has passed in the real world. The things in the shadows are rarely seen clearly in dreams, and that is the case for the Princess. She thinks she is really living the life in the castle until the day she discovers Maleficent killing one of the courtiers to feast on her blood and become stronger again. Then, she escapes from the castle, discovers the world outside the castle is not destroyed at all and meets up with her Prince (who she doesn’t remember but he says he loves her).

Together, the Prince and Princess battle through the strange dreamworld and fight various demons and tricksters whom the evil fairy sends to destroy (and delay) Aurora. Eventually, they destroy Maleficent herself and everyone wakes up (and lives happily ever after – sort of). But the real evil of the book is that people who have died in the dream world have died in the real life the Prince and Princess return to.

While this is written as a fairy tale, it is as grim and dark as a nightmare. There are some very scary word images, especially where Maleficent is killing people and there are descriptions of blood rushing out of convulsing, tortured people. There are also descriptions of killings of demons who have black and white pus or bile come out of them. The evil spirits and demons that the evil fairy summons to help her to control the people in the castle are horrific.

This is not a book for a faint-hearted person. If your child is subject to nightmares, I would not recommend reading this book. Besides the graphic word images, the psychological evil of the storyline has many horrific consequences, such as Maleficent leaving the Princess’ parents untouched by the sleeping dream so they literally live 16 years in a tiny, unfurnished cell, knowing who is really in control of their daughter and unable to do anything. There are also many other disturbing psychological elements within this story.

However, given that Disney has published this book following their animated movie, Maleficence, many people will read this without paying much attention to the graphic details within. There are some elements that parents of young teenagers will appreciate. The Princess realises she has spent some time (in both her life times) being depressed and not wanting to get up. In the end, she realises she must fight the battles presented to her and that lying down and wishing it would all go away will not work. The Princess falls in love with the Prince through the adventure, not the “Love at First Sight” type of love, but a more enduring love that is based on friendship, appreciating how he never left her, never gave up on her, and supported her to be the person she truly could be. She is more independent and shows a variety of good characteristics that are good for young women to have in the real world.

There are some interesting discussions on the nature of being alive and Princess Aurora does a lot of thinking about the gifts of grace, song, and beauty that the fairies had given to her. She thinks about how useless these gifts are, but through the final battle Aurora rediscovers her own natural gifts of intelligence, bravery, and compassion and realises she can indeed be the Queen she was meant to be. Teenage girls will understand the lessons that looking good is less important than achieving good things. Modern women will prefer the final version of the Princess to the traditional “Sleeping Beauty” princess who is merely a beautiful girl who waits for her prince to wake her up and falls immediately in love with the “handsome” prince. The prince too is portrayed as more human than just a “handsome” prince and the adventures together strengthen and change the “love” he had for Aurora. 

Once Upon a Dream is a fascinating read that is hard to put down. It’s more than just a twist on the traditional fairy tale, it is a treatise on being yourself and using all your abilities to achieve your goals. Adults as well as teenagers will enjoy this twisted tale that keeps presenting twist after twist to keep you from guessing what will happen next. “Good versus evil” has never been portrayed quite like this before!

Reviewed by Hayley Hunkin
CKT Book Reviewer

Author: Liz Braswell
Title: Once Upon a Dream
Publisher: PaperRocket
ISBN: 97814748366623
Published: October 2016
Age: 11+


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