SLEEPING BEAUTIES By Stephen King and Owen King
IDW Publishing, h/b,£11.45
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
An adaptation of the novel of the same name by the father and son duo, tells the start of the story. Women all around the world are succumbing to a bizarre sleeping sickness named “Aurora” (after Sleeping Beauty). These women become covered in a shroud-like cocoon upon falling asleep and only wake when the cocoon is removed, but this then turns them into vicious, feral creatures that exist only to violently kill whoever disturbed them – whether they be friend or family.
In a small town in West Virginia, the female sheriff fights to stay awake to protect her town while the menfolk become increasingly anxious and violent, and a strange woman walks out of the woods. This woman, Evie, is unaffected by the sleeping sickness. She sleeps; she wakes. But she knows things and presents an enigma to Dr Clint Norcross, the psychiatrist at the Dooling women’s correctional facility. To other men in the town, she represents the possibility of salvation – if they could study her, if she would share her secrets, or if they could kill her, perhaps the women in their lives would be freed from their sleep.
One by one, the women awaken somewhere else – within a forest. Separately, animals within a forest (possibly the same, possibly one in the waking world, it’s unclear) talk to each other – birds, foxes and tigers all conversing calmly, with something called the Mother Tree being referred to. Evie tells Dr Norcross that he is “The Man” – he is the only one who can save the world. If he can keep Evie alive and stop the men of Dooling from torturing and killing her, then she may be able to return all of the world’s women to a normal, waking state.
This book explores some very familiar themes that often feature in King senior’s other works – the end of the world, people being driven mad, only one person can save everyone and so forth. The release seems quite timely in a world where violence against women seems ever-increasing, but as this is just the first part of the story, it doesn’t give us the answer.
The book feels rather nice in the hands – a heavy hardback with thick, glossy pages. The colours throughout are rather muted, but in scenes of violence, the panels all have a red background. Even though just one artist illustrated the book, the style seems to vary in different chapters. In the first section, the cocoon that the sleeping women are covered with looks like a child has scribbled across their faces, whereas in other chapters, it is more bandage-like, resembling Egyptian mummies; in others, just thin white lines around the characters that barely obscure their features. The artwork is striking, mostly following the traditional left to right layout, with the occasional bigger panel and some full-page illustrations to mark the beginning of the next chapter.
This is definitely an interesting read – it does jump around a fair bit from scene to scene and introduces lots of characters, but it doesn’t feel too hard to follow. I’m definitely intrigued to find out how it ends and if Dr Norcross manages to keep the mysterious Evie alive and save the world (I’m fairly sure he will, though). I’m keen to find out what the Mother Tree is, where Evie came from, and where the women have been transported to in their sleep. All in all, an enjoyable, if predictably violent book, with a moral at the heart of the story.