Review: To Defy a Dream

To Defy a Dream by Mary Mecham is a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" from The Shattered Tales, a multi-author series bent on deconstructing popular fairy tales and rewriting them with a twist that shatters their most defining elements. As a huge fairy tale fan, I wasn't too interested in a premise that it rips apart the foundations of what makes fairy tales so beloved. I think deconstructions work better for outdated romcom tropes such as Rachel Bloom brilliantly executed in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend than they do with timeless fairy tale classics. Still, I enjoyed this author's deconstructed "Cinderella" retelling, and since To Defy a Dream was part of a big fairy tale promotion for Valentine's Day, I thought I might as well give it a chance.

Overall, To Defy a Dream has very little to do with "Sleeping Beauty" despite being a retelling. There is a sleeping curse and a magic spindle, but the princess was not cursed to die or sleep at her birthing ceremony and is far from the first person to enter the dream world. True love does not break the spell even though there is a romantic subplot, and the protagonist does very little sleeping throughout the book. Instead, the plot is almost identical to Disney's Wish, which was released shortly after this book was written, so it is most likely a timely coincidence. Princess Aurelia is a heroine who is determined to liberate the people of her kingdom after its citizens have fallen into an enchanted sleep that pulls their minds into a fantasy world. This world is ruled by a malevolent djinni overlord who claims to have created a paradise where anyone's wish can be granted. Using the power of an enchanted spindle, Aurelia enters this dream world with the intent of freeing her brother, Prince Waylon, and finding a way to release everyone from the enchanted sleeping.

The love story in this book is presented in a messy and realistic way as opposed to the sugar-sweet swoony romances that tend to dominate fairy tale retellings. When Aurelia is reunited with her lost love, Everett, she is furious at him for abandoning her when he worked for her in the castle as a carpenter. It didn't help that their relationship was already riddled with obstacles regarding how Waylon's absence made Aurelia the new heir and required her to marry another royal instead of a blue-collar peasant. When Everett overheard a conversation about an arranged marriage alliance for Aurelia, he thought the best thing to do was to quietly disappear from her life, and she is far from over her hurt from this when she enters the dream world. She is sharp-tongued and spiteful toward him, making it difficult to root for the couple to get together even though it is clear that it comes from a place of emotional trauma.

Normally I like books that I can finish quickly, but this book's short length works to its detriment. There are so many details about the dream world that remain underdeveloped, making it confusing and underwhelming. The big twist at the end comes out of left field with very little time to process, causing the dialogue to plummet into some of the most cliche villain lines ever. The way that Aurelia defeats the villain is also rushed and unsatisfying and feels unearned because it requires very little effort. This is a modern princess story about a "girl power" heroine who doesn't require a man's help, making Waylon and Everett's roles feel extraneous even though they had both been involved in a resistance group for years in the dream world before she joined them.

Mary Mecham's To Defy a Dream, while offering a subversion of traditional fairy tales with a strong heroine and nuanced romance, ultimately stumbles on its short length and underdeveloped world-building. Though the fairy tale connection feels tenuous with a plot that bears striking similarities to Disney's Wish, the book's core message of female empowerment still resonates. Readers seeking a quick, empowering read with a modern princess narrative may find this book enjoyable. However, those yearning for intricate world-building, a satisfyingly complex plot, and a deeper exploration of the fairy tale deconstruction will likely be left wanting.


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