Review Blog

Sep 10 2013

Briar Rose by Jana Oliver

cover image

Macmillan, 2013. ISBN 9781447241096.
(Age: 15+) Imagine the Sleeping Beauty tale revisited upon a small Southern town in America. Sounds intriguing? If only it delivered as much as promised.
Growing up in the small township of Bliss, Briar Rose's life at first seems aptly blissful, until we learn that a family feud has come between Briar and her former best friend, Joshua Quinn. To make matters worse, Briar discovers that due to an old curse, she will not survive her 16th birthday, which just happens to be when the novel starts.
However, instead of dying, Briar falls into a deep slumber inhabited by a fairy tale nightmare. Instead of a charming tale of handsome princes and fabulous castles, Briar awakens to a world filled with violence and dread. In this nightmare world, while the beautiful princess sleeps, the young princes who try to awaken her are brutally killed and a cruel regent rules in place of the Royal family.
In the first half of the novel, the fairy tale within a fairy tale scenario is cleverly deployed and the main characters are credibly complex. However, gradually our engagement with the story starts to wane. This is partly due to the writer's narrative style which is overtaxed with Americanisms. These become particularly distracting as the action intensifies; the constant use of phrases like 'Right back at you, girlfriend' simply sounds cheesy and dissipates the supposed tension at critical moments. Whilst humour can be used to balance darkness, these attempts at lightness feel corny rather than clever.
The characters also become more one-dimensional as the novel progresses: Briar's first saviour, Ruric, loses his mysterious qualities and behaves like a stock storybook prince, whilst the bad boy at the start of the novel (Pat Daniels) is all too easily reformed! Meanwhile the budding romance between Briar and Joshua is described in increasingly mawkish and unrealistic terms.
Ultimately, what begins as an enticing premise is diminished by the manner of the telling.
Deborah Marshall

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