Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Plume (May 1, 1999)
In the traditional folktale of 'Sleeping Beauty,' the spell cast upon the lovely young princess and everyone in her castle can only be broken by the kiss of a Prince. It is an ancient story, one that originally emerged from and still deeply disturbs the mind's unconscious. Now Anne Rice's retelling of the Beauty story probes the unspoken implications of this lush, suggestive tale by exploring its undeniable connection to sexual desire. Here the Prince reawakens Beauty, not with a kiss, but with sexual initiation. His reward for ending the hundred years of enchantment is Beauty's complete and total enslavement to him…as Anne Rice explores the world of erotic yearning and fantasy in a classic that becomes, with her skillful pen, a compelling experience.
The Claiming Of Sleeping Beauty is sexually charged, very explicit, dark and not the average run-of-the-mill erotica novel and to my astonishment is published in 1983. To say I was surprised after closing this novel would be an understatement, I am so used to reading my share of romantica – erotica with a romance driven storyline – but appearantly I had yet to encounter a true erotica novel where the variety in sex was the main course. From the second page, where the Prince tore the gown of Beauty and breaking the spell while having sex, I knew this would be a novel that would test my boundaries. The dark eroticism saturated the pages along with Beauty's inner struggles and I was fascinated with what Anne Rice would make of this familiar fairytale.
What I found baffled me and I don’t know, even now, if it is in a good way or a bad way. I have already tasted Anne Rice’s display of sexuality in the Mayfair Witches trilogy and I knew certain elements could be seasoned with the darker tones of passion. This story leans heavily on the master/slave concept where the focus lies on teaching royalty an inner strength, poise and acceptance. When they've learned those lessons they could intertwine the achieved wisdom in their ruling as a future king or queen. The powerful Queen of this court has many young royalties to teach and she sends her son, the Prince, to break the spell that incarcerates Beauty to the world of sleep. His journey is successful, he claims Beauty and takes her away to his court.
Beauty is awakened by the Prince while he has sex with her and she is immediately subjugated to his demands. He is young, handsome and very commanding and she is fifteen, vulnerable and subservient. She accepts his leadership while her heart is rebellious at the same time and confused by all these overwhelming emotions. Beauty has many emotions coursing through her; arousal, fear, humiliation and she is uncertain of the future ahead of her.
I think what shocked me the most was the fact that I felt they were both relatively young for such a sexual preference, even though Beauty slept for a hundred years. Pleasure and pain were so much intertwined in this tale and what surprised me too; I was actually able to be shocked. I have encountered enough flogging and paddling of buttocks, calves, genitals and thighs to last me a lifetime. Punishment in all shape and forms to test the resilience of a slave and to show that there is grace in accepting pain and dealing with it is also showcased on a frequent base. To obey every command is giving the ultimate pleasure to the master. At one hand I could accept the pain and punishment within the world that Anne Rice had created. For it gave Beauty a way to grow, change and feel an array of emotions. Yet on the other hand, as I sympathized with Beauty, I also felt discomfort because how can all this pain lead to a romantic involvement? How can pain involve pleasure, how can pain inspire love, how can pain teach? Those questions really occupied my mind during the time I read this story yet I also realized that this might not be a romance driven story. So if it wasn't a romance driven story then what would it boil down to; characterization and erotically charged scenes but would this be enough for me?
That the Prince was feeling an attraction to Beauty was evident from the get-go but when he professed his love all I wanted was to punch him in the face. He did not make me feel his declaration, which was very soon in the story, and I could not feel any love for him as a main protagonist. There was a distance between me and him, I wasn’t in his mind, because to be honest, Anne Rice did not let me. He was so focused on every action to make her a perfect slave that nothing else mattered. He might be a very erotically focused male who loves Beauty, does not shy away from men, uses various items and is very possessive of Beauty but I was happy to see him fade in to the background when I reached the last third of the story.
Then I found there was also passion, a forbidden passion no less and one that spiced this story even more. Prince Alexi captured my attention and preference the moment he entered the stage and I can only hope more of him is to come in the next two stories. He has learned a great deal, he has an innate strength that made me feel he could survive anything and he holds a vast knowledge of how this court works. The instant attraction between him and Beauty brings an intriguing possibility to the table and brings hope for me as the reader that this is not just a string of sexual events proclaiming the mastery of those ruling the court.
The characterization is another item on my list that caught me off guard. It felt more two dimensional, more like a telling of a tale where people conversed their emotion to the reader rather then allowing them inside their mind and heart. Each person, from the Queen, to the Lords and Ladies, to the various princes and princesses who were slaves, they all added to this dark sexually rich setting where Beauty suddenly finds herself in. As odd as it might seem this story created a fascinating push-pull on me where the journey of Beauty might take her. She struggles with her emotions of rebellion, of surrendering her mind and body to the wishes of another and her own arousal. I want to find out if all the pain, humiliation, punishment but also the orgasmic gratification is going to be worth it in the end or if this is just a story of sex displayed in its various forms with a woman as a center figure of it all.
The world Anne Rice has given life to is most definitely an acquired taste where punishment is used to teach and always serves a purpose to those undergoing it. The Prince is love-struck with Beauty and her natural grace as a slave but there are many times I did not feel the love burning between them. It is another passion I feel boiling underneath the surface that has my utmost attention. That of Beauty and Prince Alexi, the favorite slave of the Queen. I was strangely enraptured with the high-octane manifestations of dark eroticism and at the same time this story pushed at all my boundaries of what I can “take” as a reader.
The story ends on a high note where Beauty makes decisions that empower herself and it is one of the reasons I am intriguid enough to crack the spine of Beauty's Punishment. Lord Tristan is another reason, he is enveloped in mystery and he tickles the curiousity. And as some or many of you know, I am a highly curious person. With 273 pages it is a well-rounded beginning of a trilogy where Anne Rice's voice is evident from the begining. It is losely based on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale but other then the beginning I see very little resemblance but then again, I haven't read or watched Sleeping Beauty in quite a while.
Sometimes a novel fascinates you for very unusual reasons. I cannot place my finger exactly on what it is other then that Beauty's resilience intrigues the daylights out of me. For every pro there is in this story I have an equally strong con and the other two books will determine much for me. The Claiming Of Sleeping Beauty explores many facets of pleasure which will demand the surrender of the reader to this world and its rules. I for one am willing to partake in Beauty’s endeavor and am highly curious where this trilogy may end up.