First off, I should note that sleep was lost in the reading of this book. However, unlike many of Stephen King’s previous novels the fundamental themes of Sleeping Beauties are fantasy and the supernatural. That being said, King manages to incorporate plenty of little gruesome details and events that cause the skin to crawl. Readers who are well versed in King’s style will be familiar with his tendency to introduce a multitude of characters then promptly kill them off, but a gratifying change in Sleeping Beauties is that most of the characters survive – at least, for longer than a chapter. Perhaps the deviation from King’s stereotypical style can be attributed to the influence of his son and co-author, Owen King. As someone who has only read a couple of King’s novels, I enjoyed the faster pace and supernatural themes contained in Sleeping Beauties.
The book gets straight to it within the first twenty pages, beginning to set the scene and introduce the core characters. You don’t have to wait long for things to become relevant. The backdrop is a fictional American town called Dooling, located amongst the Appalachia Mountains. The focal point is the Dooling Correctional Facility For Women, where we meet many of our main characters. Tragic back-stories and questionable moral choices can be expected. Throughout the book, there is sufficient characterization to maintain interest but without focusing heavily on any one character. The plot and characters are equally important, requiring each other in order to carry the story. If you want a book that gets into its characters’ heads, this is not the one for you.
The premise of the novel is simple: when women fall asleep, they become wrapped in mysterious web-like ‘cocoons’ and do not wake. If forcibly woken through the breakage of their swathes, they become violent and inhuman. Over the course of several days, the world finds itself facing a future without women. At the centre of this strange phenomenon is Dooling Correctional Facility’s newest inmate, the otherworldly Evie. Is she a witch? Is she God? Is she a blessing or a curse? The supernatural themes border on sinister at times, godly at others. The book raises many interesting questions about the current state of the world by removing one vital aspect of it: women. When asleep, the women enter an alternative reality without men, and are faced with the choice to stay or to return. This book will either destroy your faith in humanity, or restore it; or even do both, at different stages.
What I enjoyed most in the reading of Sleeping Beauties was the thought-provoking events and unfolding plotline. Power balance is a recurrent theme: power between inmates and wardens, between men and women, and between human and non-human. I’d recommend this book for any Stephen King fan, as well as for readers who enjoy a dab of the supernatural leaking into the real world. Be prepared to lose sleep when the intensity picks up!
Words by Maddy Compston