Briarheart by Mercedes Lackey (book review)
GENRE: YA Fantasy
LENGTH: 354 pages
Miriam is the big sister of Princess Aurora. When a Dark Fae attempts to curse her sister at her christening she defends her and discovers she has Fae magic.
Miriam is Aurora's half-sister and the King's stepdaughter. She is not a princess but still has many privileges afforded to her. Despite not actually being a princess she reminded me a lot of a Disney princess. Unfortunately, she suffers from a fatal disease known as Not Like Other Girls Syndrome (she doesn't like dances and dresses and all the usual 'girly' things) and is a Mary Sue (magic? combat? It all comes naturally to her). Fortunately, however, she is still a lovable character because of her bravery and devotion to her family.
I liked how Miriam was never jealous of Aurora. Rather she is obsessed with her little sister and would die for her. It makes her that much more of a lovable character. I also love that Lackey bucks fairy tale tradition in that there is no evil step-parent. Instead, Miriam has a wonderful relationship with her step-father. He supports her and respects her late father and the role he had in her life. It makes me so happy!
I wish we got more time getting to know Miriam's five friends who become part of Aurora's Companions (A.K.A. the princess's protectors). We hardly know anything about the boys other than Giles who worked in the kitchen. Even the other girls don't get much spotlight. I adore friendships in books and this had such potential. Yet even though they were there a lot I felt they were still invisible.
There are multiple talking animal characters within the book. I won't reveal anything specific about who/what they are to avoid spoiling anymore but I loved them all. This also gave me Disney princess vibes because what is more Disney princess than having friendly talking animal companions?
The novel is told from the first person perspective of Miriam. I love fairy tales and retellings of them. If you couldn't tell from the title or the baby princess's name, this is a Sleeping Beauty retelling. One of the best choices Lackey made here is to tell the story from an alternate, and entirely original, perspective. It would have been difficult to tell a Sleeping Beauty story through the eyes of said beauty for obvious reasons. Creating a new protagonist from scratch also increased Lackey's creative control.
I had mixed feelings about the world building of this novel. On the one hand it was very whimsical and there were magical beings aplenty. Plus there's a creepy goblin market and a pretty fairy garden. What more could you want, really? On the other hand, some of the building was done through early page info dumps which always feel a tad lazy. Also, I wanted an explanation on why the Dark Fae agreed to the Rules that prevent them from attacking without cause. It's never mentioned how such a treaty would benefit them to sign. They're powerful beings so it's not like they could have realistically have been forced to. I know it's a nitpick, but as a fantasy writer I treasure world building and these things stick out like a sore thumb to me.
Two other nitpicks are: 1) the reasoning for the Dark Fae wanting Aurora cursed was quite weak, and 2) the subplot about Miri learning more about her father's mother was just abandoned. Why introduce it if you don't plan to see it through?
Compared to the fantasy books I usually read this one was a lot lighter and softer. Rather than being one epic story it reads as more episodic. There is the overarching plot of learning magic and combat to protect Aurora tying it all together, but often the characters are going on mini-adventures.
I saw quite a few reviews saying that this book reads more like middle grade that YA. I can certainly see where they are coming from given how the novel never gets dark, has virtually no violence, and no romance. Is that really a problem, though? Anyone of any age can enjoy middle grade and YA books and books don't need to be dark or have a romantic element to be good.
I had been having major fantasy burnout lately. It's my still my favorite genre but I was temporarily exhausted from the constant world hopping. I think a story like this was exactly what I needed. It reminded me of why I love fantasy but also gave me a much needed break from the more somber, dramatic stories with vaster worlds. It's a cute story that anyone who loves those classic Disney movies is sure to adore.
FINAL RATING: 3.5⭐️