Sleeping Beauties is a novel written by Stephen King in collaboration with his son Owen King. It was released in September 2017 and is a dark, grisly horror story focusing predominantly on the horrors brought forth by men upon the world and the woman within it.
All around the world, something is happening to women when they fall asleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed, the women become feral and spectacularly violent…
In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia, the virus is spreading through a women’s prison, affecting all the inmates except one. Soon, word spreads about the mysterious Evie, who seems able to sleep – and wake. Is she a medical anomaly or a demon to be slain? The abandoned men, left to their increasingly primal devices, are fighting each other, while Dooling’s Sheriff, Lila Norcross, is just fighting to stay awake.
And the sleeping women are about to open their eyes to a new world altogether…
Stephen King is no stranger to a collaboration. He was collaborated with many people such as Peter Straub with both The Talisman and Black House. He has also collaborated with his son, Joe Hill on the book Throttle. Joe Hill has, of course, gone on to become an excellent author in his own right now. I am a huge fan and loved his books The Fireman and NOS4R2 in particular. So now Stephen King gets to work with his son Owen. In an interview with the master of horror, Stephen King has said that Sleeping Beauties was the brainchild of Owen, who came to him with the idea. Stephen loved it and they got to work. If nothing else, it absolutely feels like a Stephen King novel with a few noticeable exceptions.
The story if Sleeping Beauties is an age old tale really. Men are inherently bad and wreak havoc on all they touch is pretty much the main point. To test this theory, Sleeping Beauties takes the women, arguably our rational side, away and sees how we cope.
In the small, impoverished town of Dooling a young woman happens upon a trailer being used as a meth lab. There are two men, and one woman, inside. The woman is being treated pretty horribly though to be fair, she is in a meth lab. Our new young woman proceeds to viciously murder both men, free the woman and then sit down and wait to be arrested. The local sheriff, and key character, Lila Norcross arrives and arrests the young woman, quickly realising she may not be quite right mentally. Their brief exchange certainly suggests something weird is going on. The young lady talks to Lila like she knows her well and is certainly not interested in discussing her recent violent actions.
Around the same time, woman across the world, and in Dooling start to not wake up from sleep. Instead a kind of cocoon spreads across their face and they seem to be locked in a slumber that may or may not be eternal. This affliction is given the name, The Aurora Virus. Aurora being the “real” name of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty princess.
As more and more females go to sleep and don’t wake up, we head to prison, or Dolling Correction Facility. It just so happens to also be a female prison, containing a large amount of colourful and interesting characters. The head of psychology at the facility happens to be a Clint Norcross, Lila’s husband. At the prison, the inmates are also starting to fall asleep causing panic and fear. Out on the streets it is worse though. It seems that when people are a little afraid or unsure of circumstances, their go to activity is to loot and riot.
As more and more woman and girls fall asleep, the town becomes chaotic. Many of these sleepers were police officers, officials of some sort, shop keepers, parents and a now very understaffed Lila’s police department are struggling to keep control. As such, she has no real time to deal with the young woman who killed the drug dealers. She speaks with her husband, Clint and arranges for her to be held at the facility temporarily, until things get back to normal and she can be processed. The young woman, who refuses to give her name, becomes dubbed Eve Black. Eve seems absolutely fine with going to the facility. In fact she seems fine with everything going on.
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A large part of the story now revolves around three things. One is giving depth to the many, many characters within, telling back stories and examining the cracks in the relationships between husband’s and wives, fathers and daughters. This includes Clint and Lila where things are a long way from as rosy as they originally seem. The second is the desperate attempts taken by people to stay awake, from taking strong coffee and constant jogging, to cocaine and adrenaline shots. Finally, the plight of the leftover men, some who weep and desperately try to find a way to wake their loved ones. Some who decide to go and get drunk and revel in their newly found freedom. Then there are the others. The ones who see the sleeping women as an opportunity to commit rape and murder.
A few who do wake the women, either through rape or through attempting to remove the cocoon from their fasces quickly regret it as they wake as strong, violent shadows of themselves, obliterate whoever it was who touched them before drifting back to sleep again.
As the carnage progresses, Eve becomes a bit of an interest to everyone, especially Clint. She seems to know a lot about what is happening and she does not seem affected by it. She can go to sleep, and she wakes up again. Whether she is immune and a possible cure or the person who started it is unclear yet but word is spreading about her. As the majority of the remaining females fall to sleep, including Lila, the outside world is now predominantly men. A few who are trying to keep order but more who have embarked on a doomed quest which includes burning the bodies of the sleeping women. They believe that may stop the spread of Aurora.
Eve summons Clint to her cell and reveals her identity as an emissary from another world of sorts where they believe they can create a new world free of men, the cause for all the violence and destruction in the world today.
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Eve is convinced that men are evil and when they learn about her, will do what they do. Attempt to capture her and kill her. She sets a simple challenge to Clint. Prove her wrong. If he can keep her alive until sunrise in a week’s time, she will go to the women who are asleep here but awake elsewhere. She will give them the chouice to either return or stay. But, should he fail to keep Eve alive, the women are gone forever with no choice of return.
With half a town keen to get their hands on the “cure” and a prison guard heavily depleted in numbers, can Clint keep Eve safe from the approaching violence?
I can honestly say that Sleeping Beauties is the first book I have read with Stephen King’s name on it that I really struggled with. Usually I can’t put his books down but in this one, I had to persuade myself to read on. Set myself a goal like “you have to read 1 chapter” to get through it. That makes it sound bad, I guess, and it is with just a few positives. It is actually an interesting story with a violently fun premise. How quickly would men destroy themselves if the women just went away?
The biggest problem I had was with the characters and how they are developed. There are a lot of characters filling the pages and a vast amount of them are almost completely unimportant to the story. I get that Owen and Stephen are trying to lay a foundation of “look how bad the men are” and are trying to get me attached to them but it goes too far.
The Stand had a similar ethos, trying to make you understand the breadth of destruction by introducing a load of unimportant characters, giving them a story and then killing them but did so in a page or paragraph. Here we can get a 10 page chapter on an extra and learn about his wife, kids, dog, extended family, 3rd cousin in Alaska – okay not quite but that is how it feels. Despite this plethora of characters, you never really feel very attached to any of them. When the next chapter seems to be about to touch on one of them again, you don’t really want to read on.
After the initial excitement of the book which was the introduction to Eve Black and the start of the virus you are intrigued by one character only and that is Eve Black. Looking forward to hearing more on her, she disappears for almost 2 thirds of the book. That is frustrating.
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It isn’t all bad though – as Eve becomes pivotal again and returns to the story, it becomes a bit more of a page turner. The idea of the second world – thriving women in one and destructive men in the other is neat and it is vividly described. I also really enjoyed the chapter pushed via the eyes of a young fox. That could be the basis of the Green Party manifesto in it’s descriptive of the foxes troubles with mankind. The ending, and the decision made was handled well enough and I like the slightly open end to the story but for more than just the context. Why did I like the ending?
For the first time with a Stephen King book, I was happy to see the ending so I could put the damn thing away and get on with reading something better. I don’t say that easily. I am a huge fan of his work and will continue to be. Aside from an interesting enough plot, Sleeping Beauties manages to be bloated with poor character development and no way of attaching yourself to them. Frankly, I grew happier as the story continued and more people either died or fell asleep so I didn’t have to read about them anymore. Sleeping Beauties was successful in involving one feeling only, frustration.
Sleeping Beauties (Stephen King and Owen King)
The Final Score - 3/10