There once was a girl who was born to be cursed. By no fault of her own, she was doomed to remind her kingdom of everything ugly. No matter how many good deeds she did or how kind she was, it was her destiny to die, and take her kingdom with her. Her mother and father wept when they saw her, and the witch who cursed her celebrated gleefully as each year passed.
Except there was hope. Her sisters, older and wiser, and with no small amount of magic of their own, countered the witch’s curse. If Kumiko could be loved, truly loved, the curse would be broken, and everyone would see what the witch had hidden.
But all her life, Kumiko had been let down—by the parents who hid her away and by an ill-fated curse.
Until they arrived.
Four princes, full of smug confidence and pride, were determined to break the princess’s curse before her twenty-first birthday.
All they had to do was fall in love.
I frequently cry over fairy tales and this one is no exception. I love the princes who travel to meet her, all four of them come with thoughts of the money involved in helping to break the curse. That quickly changes as they get to know her.
Kumiko’s curse appeared differently to everyone who sees her face. She really had decided to accept her fate as put forth by her curse. However Wataru, Reiji, Dai, and Goro, Princes on Iriogaki in Sara, have more than just curiosity about the princess and they aren’t going to give up easily.
This is made apparent when even after seeing her face they refuse to leave. This is a favorite scene from as they followed Wataru to his room.
I knew my friends would follow me into my room, but in the seconds after seeing Kumiko’s face and hurrying away, I wasn’t aware of anything but what I’d seen. Her words replayed in my head. “I’m not actually ugly.”
Tripping up the steps to my room, I clutched at the bannister.
“Keep going,” Reiji whispered behind me, voice tight. “Hurry.”
I was going as fast as I could, but everything was a blur. Twice more I tripped. The second time, I hit my knees so hard, I knew I’d have bruises.
Somehow, I made it to my room, opened the door and found a chair to collapse into. Then I dropped my head into my hands and wondered how the hell I kept myself from doing exactly what I promised myself I wouldn’t.
Because I wanted to.
I wanted to run away. My suitcase was still open, and in seconds, I could have that thing packed and be out the door. By the end of the day, I could be on Iriogaki and this would be nothing but a nightmare.
It wasn’t her features, I couldn’t recall those, but as soon as her scarf had slipped below her chin, I’d been hit with a wave of revulsion. Thank God, Kumiko’s eyes had been closed.
“It’s all in our head,” Dai said, but his normally deep voice was paper thin. It wavered and broke as he tried to go on. “It wasn’t her we saw, but the curse.”
Reiji made a noise and with a thump, hit the ground. Head low, he took deep breaths as if he was trying to keep himself from passing out. Or throwing up. “She was right,” he said. “We thought we were so different. I want to leave.” He glanced up, face pale and lips white. “If I could go right now, I would.”
“I know,” I whispered. Part of me wished I’d listened to Kumiko and hadn’t seen her face, but another, much smaller though still vocal part, yelled out that it would be just as awful no matter when it happened. “But we won’t.”
“It’s not her,” Reiji said, and then, “Poor girl. No wonder she hides.”
“Can you imagine?” It was the first time Goro spoke. Trembling, he took his glasses off and pressed the heels of his palms against his closed eyes. “She knows what she shows us isn’t who she is. Guys, her whole life is made up of moments like the one we just had. Thank God she couldn’t see us.”
Dai nodded. “If the witch who cursed her ever appeared again—” He threatened what I was sure everyone who knew Kumiko wanted to do. “And last night, I judged her family for eating without her…” He stared off into space, wrapped up in wherever his thoughts had gone.
“So we agree,” I said, digging deep for confidence. “We stay.”
“Of course,” Goro answered.
“Yes,” Dai stated simply. “I won’t leave her now. Especially not now.”
“We are her friends,” Reiji said. “We’ll prove it.”
A soft knock on the door had us startling, showing just how off balance we were. I waited until my friends nodded and then stood. My body swayed and I held onto the back of the chair to get my bearings before going to answer it.
Aoi, Miori, and Fuyumi stood outside. Miori chewed her lip nervously while Aoi’s sharp gaze studied us. Fuyumi crossed her arms. “She showed you.” A statement, not a question, but I nodded anyway. “Stupid. I’ll have a car meet you downstairs. Can you be ready in an hour?”
“We’re not leaving,” Reiji answered quickly. “We’re regrouping.”
Aoi and Miori wore similar shocked expressions, but Fuyumi narrowed her eyes. “Regrouping?”
“Yes.” Goro wiped the lenses of his glasses on his shirt before putting them back on. “She asked us to leave her after she showed us. So we did.”
“What did you say?” The normally quiet Miori pushed Fuyumi aside. “Why would she tell you to leave? And if she did, why are you still here?”
“Before she showed us,” I answered. “We agreed to come back to our rooms immediately after she showed us. We didn’t say anything.”
“Not a gasp? Not a scream?” Aoi asked.
“No,” Dai replied.
“And you’re staying?” Aoi went on.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Huh.” Aoi lifted an eyebrow before turning back to her sisters. “Okay. So, they’re staying.”
“Do you see the curse?” Goro asked. No one seemed closer to Kumiko than her sisters, and from what I’d heard, they were the ones who had been able to counter the witch’s curse. Was it possible that by doing so, it somehow didn’t affect them?
“Yes,” Aoi answered. “When we look at Kumiko, we don’t see her face. Her real face.”
“How—” he began to ask but then stopped abruptly when Fuyumi took a threatening step forward.
“She’s more than her curse.” Fuyumi’s shoulders slumped. “And she’s our baby sister.”
“Every day we wish we were stronger. We wish we were able to undo what the witch did. But we were children, and the way we countered the curse was the way a child would,” Miori went on.
“With a prince’s kiss,” I said, realization dawning.
“Yes,” Miori said. “But the prince must truly love her.”
Ripley Proserpina. While Beauty Sleeps (Kindle Locations 887-930).
Now winning over the princess while not seeing her face is a challenge, but these guys are more than up to that challenge.
I loved the slow build, the incidents that complicate things even more, and the absolute love they manage to share.
Plenty of tears and laughter,Mr. Whiskers, Goro’s very large cat has quite the personality as well.
5 contented Purrs for Ripley!
Ripley Proserpina spends her days huddled near a fire in the frozen northern wilds of Vermont. She lives with her family, two magnificent cats, and one dog who aspires to cat-hood. She is the author of the Reverse Harem series, The Searchers, Midnight’s Crown, and the young adult/fantasy duet, Wishes and Curses.