Blog tour: The Sleeping Beauties by Lucy Ashe

The Sleeping Beauties

This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

‘May, 1945.

‘At long last, Rosamund Caradon is feeling optimistic. As she returns the last few evacuees to London from her Devonshire manor, she vows to protect dance-obsessed daughter Jasmine from further peril. But a chance meeting with a Sadler’s Wells ballerina changes everything.

‘When the beautiful, elusive Briar Woods bursts into Rosamund’s train carriage, it’s clear her sights are set on the immediately captivated Jasmine. And Rosamund cannot shake the feeling this accidental encounter is not what it seems.

‘While Briar may be far away from the pointe shoes and greasepaint of the Sleeping Beauty ballet that is so much a part of her, this performance might well be her most successful yet. For what she is watching, Rosamund feels, is a strangely unique show, one that’s just for a mother and a daughter…’

The Sleeping Beauties

The Sleeping Beauties, by Lucy Ashe, mainly focuses on the story of young ballerina Briar Woods between 1936, when she’s 17 and just starting out in her career at Sadler’s Wells in London, and 1946, by which time she’s an established member of the corps de ballet, but has picked up some emotional scars along the way.

When Briar encounters eight-year-old Jasmine Caradon on a train shortly after VE Day in May 1945, she’s determined to impress and befriend the young girl, dazzling her with pointe shoes and invitations to the theatre.

However, Jasmine’s mother, Rosamund, has a bad feeling about Briar, and doesn’t want the dancer becoming too involved with her beloved adopted daughter.

It turns out Rosamund’s not wrong to question Briar’s intentions, and along the way, she discovers some shocking truths about her own life.

This is one of those reviews where I have to be so careful to avoid spoilers! As with her previous novel, Clara & Olivia, the author shows an impressive skill for holding back key information for as long as possible, so that when it’s revealed, you’re like “wait, what?!” and have to go back over the paragraph a couple of times.

This is a very good thing, by the way – it signals that you’re engaged with, and invested in the story.

Like young Jasmine, I was mesmerised by the creative, visually spectacular world of ballet, in spite of my additional awareness of the punishing physical work and smoke-and-mirrors efforts (particularly pronounced at this time due to the extraordinary circumstances of WWII) behind the scenes.

It was fascinating to see how the nature of work changed for entertainers during this period. The Sadler’s Wells company had to swap the fixed base of an appropriately-equipped theatre for touring the country and preparing and performing in makeshift spaces, and even travelled to the Netherlands in 1940, where they unfortunately got caught up in the German invasion.

Something else I appreciated was the inclusion of details of different versions of The Sleeping Beauty, from the strange and horrific to the more sanitised version we know today, as well as the way unconsciousness is used to subdue and/or deceive all three of Ashe’s main characters at key points in the plot.

I also felt prompted to grapple with Briar’s character. On the one hand, she behaves deviously and manipulatively towards Rosamund and Jasmine, and doesn’t even try to see things from their perspective at any point.

On the other, it can be argued that she’s not in her right mind, due to some of the things she’s been through. Having followed her through those events, I felt sympathy for her while not condoning her actions.

While Clara and Olivia focussed on a pair of twins with a particularly strong bond, The Sleeping Beauties explores the notion that blood isn’t always thicker. Not only are Rosamund and Jasmine as close as any biological mother and daughter, but both become highly attached to the evacuees who share their home for years.

Meanwhile, for much of the story, Briar is inseparable from fellow dancers Vivian and Martha, effectively becoming part of Vivian’s lively family when she lodges in their house during her first years in London.

On the other hand, we witness characters acting heartlessly or indifferently towards those they’re related to biologically, or (very justifiably) turning against blood relatives who have grievously wronged them.

The Sleeping Beauties is captivating, fascinating, and engaging.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK