REVIEW: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by AN Roquelaure

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. The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty retells the Beauty story and probes the unspoken implications of this lush, suggestive tale by exploring its undeniable connection to sexual desire. Here the Prince awakens 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.

Warnings: dubcon, sexual slavery, sexual torture, humiliation, sexual violence

Category: M/F, M/M, F/M, F/F

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty is the first in a four book series by Anne Rice, written under the pen name AN Roquelaure. In the tradition of classics like Story of O, Sleeping Beauty is a kink fairy tale that gives a salacious twist to the traditional story of a Princess awakened by a saving Prince. In this version, the Prince is cruel and domineering, and Beauty is taken away as a captive to serve as a sex slave in his Kingdom, until such time as he should deem fit to release her. It is considered a classic in the realm of kink literature, and had a profound impact upon the BDSM community as a whole. Full of sexual ritual, it is considered essential reading for an understanding in kink literature.

The writing is archaic, and the prose feels quite a bit older than it actually is. Anne Rice writes here in a very flowery style that is evocative of fairy tale and legendry, with long sentences that are more pretty than descriptive. The Prince from the Sleeping Beauty legend wakes Beauty with sexual intercourse instead of a kiss, and then immediately subjugates her and takes her away to his kingdom where BDSM is the constant thrust of the day to day life. A rather over the top fantasy, and a little silly in nature, but it’s very clearly not intended to feel like it could be real. It is written from an omniscient narrator’s POV, an outsider looking in, and thus feels more voyeuristic than experiential. There’s a certain charm to this style, old fashioned as it is, that has the reader more steeped in it’s mood and it’s tone than in it’s story. It feels like looking at a baroque painting, rich and vibrant and fanciful, but also oddly still. Like a snapshot of a concept at the moment of the height of it’s movement. Perhaps not as moody a piece as some of her other books, but it still has a lot of the elements that make up her style. Aesthetic and style over substance, a little, but also teeming with beautiful ideas and forms.

Unfortunately, due to the omniscient narrator styled writing, we don’t get a whole lot of insight into how the characters are feeling in the moment. There is not much in the way of an emotional quality to the writing, which makes it feel a little stiff, a little wooden. Beauty is subjected to many things, and her feelings about those things are ever evolving with the narrative, but we only seem to be told second hand what Beauty is feeling; we aren’t experiencing them with her as she feels them. We seem to be looking in from outside, rather than living in the moment with Beauty, and this makes it very hard to care for either Beauty or anyone else in the story. There are other characters, all of whom feel interchangeable as we do not get to know many of them in any capacity. The only exception to this is Prince Alexi, a fellow sex slave of the kingdom, indentured to the Queen. He is the most fleshed out character in the entire book, and gives Beauty some very interesting and impassioned speeches about the nature of submission and masochism, and explaining how and why the slaves in the kingdom feel love towards their cruel masters. These are interesting moments, as they describe the real feelings of people who practise BDSM very well, but unfortunately the book doesn’t actually convey it well enough in the actual scenes themselves. Instead of conveying these ideas through the sex and the play, Alexi explains them through exposition. Even though it’s clear that this is intended to be Beauty’s journey into submission as well, I never actually felt any of it from her.

The worldbuilding is, to put it mildly, very silly. It takes place in a BDSM kingdom that collects tributes of the royal Prince and Princesses from it’s neighboring kingdoms in an act of dominance over them, and forces them to be sex slaves for a period of several years before releasing them. The court of this kingdom loves playing it’s sex games with it’s prizes, and there is an extensive amount of ritual to everything that they do to humiliate and subjugate their tributes. It’s not hard to see why this would capture the imagination of the BDSM community, as it is elaborate and fanciful and with it’s strict protocol makes submission into a very clear role and spectacle. However, it never really feels like a realistic or viable world, and instead is just very simply a porno universe. There’s no real political exploration, despite the potential for it, at least not in the first book. It’s just a set piece, in all honesty, for a lot of BDSM sex scenes, which isn’t a horrible thing but certainly isn’t as well done as it could have been.

While I will say there is an awful lot of very interesting, creative, and sexy ideas and scenes in this book, they never really hit the right notes for me due to their complete lack of emotional quality. The ritual humiliation also didn’t really hit my notes, especially given how Beauty is constantly being “punished” for nothing at all. I like this kind of cruelty or harsh treatment dealt out to very headstrong, willful characters, but Beauty does absolutely nothing to solicit such treatment which makes me dislike her handlers all the more. She does everything she is told at all times, but is berated and chastised for feeling feelings or thinking thoughts, which just makes me frustrated for her. A character like Beauty I would have preferred to see as a pampered pet, given praise and adoration for being so obedient, being rewarded, and instead she is constantly punished for things beyond her control. I found myself very frustrated with the sex and BDSM play in this book, despite the fact that a lot of the scenes, if done differently, would have been very hot to me. That said I will say that I appreciated how there was not simply M/F and F/F content, but M/M and F/M as well. Often times in these sorts of sex fantasies, the de facto “all the women are bi but the men are straight” is a turn off to me, but I was glad that Anne Rice did not fall into that trope.

If you are into a lot of very strict protocol and ritual to your BDSM this is likely going to be a book you’ll enjoy! There is a reason it is a well loved classic in the BDSM scene. However, for me personally, I didn’t love it’s approach to punishment and humiliation, and wished that it had focused more on Beauty as a character and her evolving emotions. I seem to be in the minority not loving it, so please feel free to make your own judgments!

Have you read The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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