One thing I did during my weekend vacation was reread a book I knew I’d enjoy that wouldn’t be too tense. I’ve been working my way back through the 500 Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey, and I got to my favorite in that series, The Sleeping Beauty. This series is about a world where fairy tales take place, and the magical system is based on the Tradition that tries to turn everything into a fairy tale. This particular book mashes up all the “sleeping princess” stories, with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and even some Norse mythology.
The thing I like about it is how clever and competent all the characters are. There’s the fairy godmother who figures out that when the queen dies, evil sorceresses are going to be driven to the kingdom by the Tradition, since the 16-year-old princess is going to have to have an evil stepmother, so she disguises herself as a dark sorceress and pretends to be married to the king to keep them all away. Then there’s the adventuring hero who’s figured all this stuff out and knows that he needs to be kind to animals and be very, very careful about which sleeping maiden he wakes with a kiss. There’s the princess who learns self-defense and magic so she can deal with all the stuff going on in her kingdom.
But it’s not a cakewalk for them, since the villain also knows all this stuff. Still, it’s a relatively low-stress read because nobody does anything truly stupid. I can deal with people being in difficult situations that they have to figure out how to resolve. I get really stressed out when people get into difficult situations because they make dumb decisions. Like in a book I just started reading, in which it looks like our heroes are going to get into the situation that sets off the plot because they make a really dumb decision. They’re described as being really clever and suspicious, but they fall into a rather obvious setup (though it may just be that it’s super obvious to me because I read the back cover). I’m going to have to power through this part to get into the meat of the story.
I don’t know if an unknown author would have been allowed to get away with the relatively low tension in The Sleeping Beauty. The stakes are quite high, but the outcome is never really in doubt. I don’t know if it’s because the book was published by the fantasy imprint of a romance house, so they’re going with the guaranteed happy ending of the romance genre, or if a bestselling author writing the flagship series for the imprint had a lot more leeway while someone like me would be rejected for there not being enough tension or conflict. I happen to love it, and it’s sad that the series was killed by a publishing merger that ended that imprint. I would have loved to have more books like it.
Incidentally, I was at the launch event for that imprint where they announced that the first book in this series would be their first book. It was at that event where I first spoke to an editor about my idea for the book that became Enchanted, Inc. She got very excited and handed me her card and told me to go write it. She ended up rejecting it, but by then I already had an agent and a lot of other publishers were looking at it.
Anyway, this gives me a model for how to deal with the kind of hyper-competent characters I like and how to still get them in enough trouble to make for a fun story.