Review: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice

[This book is very, very NSFW, and therefore this review touches on NSFW topics. Avoid if you are so inclined. Also, it may contain spoilers, insofar as a book without a plot can be spoiled.]

Once upon a time, a beautiful princess fell into an enchanted sleep from which she could never wake, unless her curse was broken by true love’s kiss… But Prince Charming does not wake the princess with a kiss in this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but by having sex with her – and afterwards, by some ancient right, he is able to claim Beauty as his prize, and take her home to become his personal sex slave.

So, I stumbled across this book (along with its two sequels) at work (which is a bookshop), about ten minutes before we were going to close up, and had to make a very quick decision about buying them vs. not, so I think I can be forgiven for not realising exactly what they were beforehand. I saw the words “Sleeping Beauty”, and “erotic retelling”, along with Anne Rice’s name, and thought they ought to be interesting, at the very least. And I wasn’t exactly wrong, but this wasn’t the kind of interesting that I was looking for… 😓

I get that people are into what they’re into, but this book has so much wrong with it that’s completely separate from its kinks. There’s no plot or character development whatsoever; the Crown Prince is vile, and Beauty is one of the blandest Mary-Sues I’ve had the displeasure of reading about (and there are a lot of them out there). The relationships are poorly developed, and the entire book is littered with instalove (or, more accurately, love-at-first-spank), both from Beauty and from almost everyone who interacts with her. And the action is incredibly repetitive; there’s a new spanking scene practically every other page… Even for people who’re really into spanking, doesn’t the repetition just get boring after a while?

Also, there’s not even an attempt at worldbuilding.

Speaking of which: HOW DOES THIS KINGDOM EVEN FUNCTION IF THE ENTIRE RULING CLASS IS INVOLVED IN A CONTINUOUS ORGY?!?!!!! The time and effort put into training the slaves might make sense if this was a brothel setting, and the slaves were the kingdom’s livelihood, but apart from a late mention of one village in the kingdom occasionally being allowed to purchase the services of a slave, there’s no indication that that’s the case. And one village cannot support an entire kingdom. And why is it so powerful? Surely the families of these slaves aren’t all like Beauty’s parents, just sending her off with a meek “you’ll come back stronger”.

How is sexual conditioning even supposed to make one a better ruler? Or constant horniness? Because that’s the only thing the slaves seem to be learning here… Is everyone in this kingdom really down with this system? Hardly anyone seems to actually benefit from it. Rice mentions people trying to escape occasionally, but why hasn’t there been a slave revolt?! A violent uprising might do this ridiculous society some good.

And even if you argue that Beauty seems to like the way she’s treated (which it seems at times that she does), it’s completely unrealistic to assume that that’s the case for all the slaves. Not everyone is into BDSM, and even among people who are, I doubt there are many who are into it to this extent. So, yes, I would call this conditioning. Alexi is a pretty powerful example of that, seeing as he is literally raped into submission.

I usually love books set in cultures that have radically different social norms, but this is just sloppy. Seriously, the only thing we ever learn about this kingdom is that everyone there is really, really into BDSM. Or else a slave, who may or may not be into BDSM – but they’re just objects, and not real people with real feelings or anything, so who cares what they think? 😑

Other plausibility concerns: How has everyone not died of STDs with all the unprotected sex and handing-around of slaves that goes on in this book? And Tristan just kind of appears at the end of the book with no explanation, so why are he and Beauty acting as if their romance has been a sub-plot for the entire story? My ability to suspend my disbelief has failed me utterly. Yes, I’m aware that it’s supposed to be a sexual fantasy, and I’m clearly overthinking things, but any book that requires its readers to turn off their brains to this extent in order to enjoy it is fundamentally flawed.

Lastly, I don’t understand why Rice bothered to make this a retelling, since apart from the initial set-up, the traditional tale of Sleeping Beauty has no bearing on the book. If Beauty’s slavery were unique, and a direct result of the curse, then it might make sense, but it’s made clear throughout the book that that’s not the case, so the source material is completely wasted…

Pros? Rice can spell, at least, but her writing style in this book is rather outdated (though understandably so, since it was published more than 30 years ago). Beauty’s confusion over what her brain is telling her and what her body is telling her might have been interesting if I was more invested in her as a character, but again, she’s bland and under-developed. In general, this book seems to be divisive, with people either condemning it as rubbish, or raving over how brilliant and influential it is. But while the influential part, at least, can’t be denied, my own feelings on The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty lean more towards the former view. I wouldn’t exactly sat that it made me angry (and I might even have given it a 1.5 if Goodreads did half-stars), but the jumbled up mixture of annoyance, confusion, boredom and disgust that it brought out in me was decidedly unpleasant.

I did buy the rest of the original trilogy along with this book, but at this point I very much doubt that I’ll read them – and even if I do, I won’t be posting any further reviews for this series. I think I’ve said my piece.

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