Sleeping Helena

A fairy tale retold.
November 2010, Prime Books.

Orphaned at birth, Helena receives a gift from each of her eight extraordinary aunts. Her gifts make her beautiful, intelligent, talented—as well as headstrong, temperamental, and bound to fulfill a destiny that involves death. On Helena’s sixteenth birthday, all in her domain are bespelled by sleep. A broken mirror becomes a portal to a dark day in a distant past that shattered the lives of her family and altered the future of an entire kingdom. While the fate of the nation has been decided and cannot be undone, the fate of the family rests on a kiss, a fairy tale king, and what Helena will do when–and if–she wakes.

Sleeping Helena is a strange, charming tale, lovingly crafted. You’ll be swept in, delighted, and dazzled by this wonderful story.”
Carolyn Turgeon, author of Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story

Sleeping Helena is a deft and unusual re-working of the Sleeping Beauty legend by a writer who truly understands the metaphorical language of fairy tales. I was deeply moved by Erzebet YellowBoy’s powerful story, and cannot stop thinking about it. What better recommendation is there?”
Terri Windling, writer, editor, and artist specializing in fantasy literature and mythic arts.

“Kitty was a tall woman, wide at the shoulder and heavy of thigh, who kept her white braids coiled on top of her head, held in place by an army of hairpins. Her skin was a deep shade of sepia and she wore lipstick the color of those halfling cherries found lurking at the bottom of canned fruit cup. She was sometimes forgiving and sometimes not. On the day of her grandniece’s christening she was not, and she knew just who to blame for the grave insult.

The eldest of eight sisters, Kitty had been born blind. At the age of five she’d fallen from a horse and into a coma that had lasted for seven long days. When she woke, Kitty could See. The visions that revealed the future to her were dreadful episodes, but none were as awful as she became as the years passed by. Kitty’s sisters often wished she’d never woken from her coma at all. Even so, none ever slighted her as they had done now.

Kitty did not need an invitation to the christening, of course, but it still would have been nice to get one. It would have been right to get one. She was one of child’s grandaunts, was she not?

Poor Lena, Kitty thought, and then, It is better this way.”

My family, from way back when.

There aren’t enough old ladies in genre fiction. In the fairytale, old women are most often portrayed in one of two ways: the evil old witch in the wood or the denatured wisewoman whose ‘wisdom’ too often comes in the form of bumbling non-advice. For someone who was raised primarily by old women and who worked, for a time, with the aged in nursing homes, this simply isn’t good enough. While the main character in Sleeping Helena is, of course, Helena, my intent with this book was to pay homage to those woman I loved, and who loved me. My grandmother, great-grandmother, my grandaunts and their friends – they are all in there somewhere. I was also fortunate to be raised by women with long memories. For me, the 19th century is not ancient history. It may as well have happened just a few moments ago.

What you’ll find in Sleeping Helena are nine old women, one brother lost, one king and one young woman, all of them trapped in time.

“I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others.”

Once upon a time there was a man named Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm, otherwise known as King Ludwig II: the Swan King, the Dream King, the Fairytale King, the Mad King. Sometimes history presents us with figures who set fire to the imagination, and sometimes it presents figures who wielded their imaginations to such an extreme that we are left breathless by their achievements. King Ludwig II has lived in my imagination since I was a little girl. Before I’d ever seen a photo of the Disney castle, I’d learned of his castle, Neuschwanstein (once called Hohenschwangau). I’d heard of his exploits, his incredible spending-sprees, his tentative romances, and his terrible fall from grace.

Here is a fairytale prince uninterested in princesses, a king uninterested in rule, a man who created monuments to a mythic world. I knew, when I was a little girl, that if I ever grew up to write my own fairy tale, he would have to play a part in it somehow.

“There are magic mirrors, forbidden love affairs, and ancient wounds held close to the heart. There is scandal, long memories, wild rides by night, and rivalries galore. There are thorny briars that never bloom.” —Realms of Fantasy

“A darkly poetic retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, lingering in the reader’s subconscious long after the last page is turned.” —Publishers Weekly

“…turns what we know as ‘Sleeping Beauty’’ inside-out, backwards and sideways. Elements like youth and age, waking and sleep, smug pride and selfless love, shift in its narrative kaleidoscope until the reader is left dazed — and a once-familiar story is reborn.”
–Locus Mag

“I just finished your book this morning. It was wonderful, of course. It wasn’t predictable and it honestly kept me guessing until the end. It was full of wonderful surprises and I really enjoyed it. It both humbled me and awakened me. Well done, mother. Well done.”
–my daughter

“Gifted in her infancy with beauty, talent, grace, and various skills by her eight elderly aunts, the orphan Helena grows up strangely lacking in virtues such as compassion. She’s also fascinated with discovering the meaning of the ambiguous gift of her eldest aunt Kitty, a gift that has something to do with death. Raised in a secluded house in the forest, prevented from encountering sharp objects, mirrors, or anything that could be shattered, Helena discovers the true family heritage and the terrible choice she is called on to make. The author of The Bone Whistle (writing as Eva Swan) gives the tale of Sleeping Beauty a fresh spin that retains classic overtones while introducing a new element to the timeless story. VERDICT YellowBoy’s interest in myths and fairy tales shines in this deceptively simple story that resonates with multiple levels of meaning.”
Library Journal