The Gates of Sleep (2002)
[Based on “Sleeping Beauty”.]
In the Prologue:
Alanna and Hugh Roeswood (both Earth Masters) are holding a christening party for their baby daughter Marina, at Oakhurst Manor, in Devon. It is already clear that baby Marina has an affinity for Water Magic. There are six guests, Marina’s godparents, all Elemental Masters, who are giving magical blessings to Marina.
Hugh’s sister, Arachne, arrives, uninvited. She had been estranged from the family, and she had had no Elemental Magic. But now she has evil magic of a different kind, and she puts a curse on Marina. The effect of the curse is that Marina will die sometime between then and her 18th birthday.
One of the guests, Elizabeth Hastings, a powerful Water Master, has not given her blessing yet. The curse is too powerful for her to dispel, but she modifies it: Arachne must be physically present to activate the curse, and Marina will not die; something else will happen instead, but Elizabeth does not know what.
To hide Marina from Arachne, Marina’s parents allow three of the guests to take her away. These are Sebastian and Margherita Tarrant, and Margherita’s brother Thomas Buford, who live in a farmhouse in Cornwall. The three of them are artists, who live a bohemian lifestyle.
Chapter 1 picks up the story when Marina is 17.
She is developing her magical abilities as a potential Water Master. She is being taught, in both magic and general academic studies, by Sebastian, Margherita and Thomas, whom she refers to as her uncles and aunt. Sebastian is a Fire Master, and Margherita and Thomas are Earth Masters, so Marina has not been taught by a Magician of her own Elemental Power. She is pleased when Elizabeth Hastings comes for a visit, to give her training in Water Magic.
Marina has never met her parents since her christening day, so she doesn’t know them, although she receives letters from them. She has also not been told about her aunt Arachne, or the curse Arachne had put on her.
But then three lawyers arrive to say that Marina’s parents had died in a boating accident while on holidays in Italy. And her aunt Arachne, as Marina’s blood-relative, is taking custody of her. She has no option but to go with the lawyers to Oakhurst Manor, where Arachne and her son Reggie are now living.
Arachne insists that Marina learn the behaviour required of high society, especially in relation to meals, clothes and dancing. Marina is generally confined to the house and not provided with any money. So she can’t even write to her aunt and uncles. Reggie, whom she finds obnoxious, seems to be trying to romance her.
Marina finds that the servants who had known her parents are sympathetic to her. This includes sneaking her extra meals, as the meals she has with Arachne are not very substantial.
Marina insists that she go to church on Sundays, and Arachne permits this. Marina had followed this practice when living with her aunt and uncles, but now it is as much to get out of the house as a religious observance. The vicar is pleased to meet her, and later Marina attends a women’s group at the vicarage, to show them art-embroidery techniques she had learnt from Margherita.
So Marina gets into a habit of attending meetings at the vicarage, getting there on horseback. On the way home one day, she encounters a young woman who seems distressed and lost. A man arrives by horse and cart – he explains that he is Dr Andrew Pike, who runs a sanitarium. The young woman, Ellen, is one of his patients. It is soon revealed that Andrew is an Earth Master.
Marina doesn’t realise that Arachne and Reggie are practising black magic and Satan worship. Arachne had inherited four pottery factories from her deceased husband. They employ young women with touches of Elemental Magic to paint the pots, using lead-based paints. But the lead poisons them, and they die in distress, with Arachne and Reggie feeding off the negative magical energy via their Satanic ceremonies. Ellen had been one of the painters, who had been rescued by a relative, and put into Andrew’s sanitarium.
But Arachne and Reggie are also plotting how to inherit Oakhurst Manor from Marina. Arachne knows that her curse had failed somehow, and is trying to work out how to reactivate it. As an alternative, Reggie could marry Marina, and inherit the manor, and later they can dispose of her.
Marina meets with Andrew and the vicar (who is also an Elemental Magician) at the vicarage. This is so Marina can use her Water Magic to remove the poison from Ellen’s body. But the group are also trying to work out what to do about the lead poisonings at the factories. Marina discovers that her aunt Arachne owns the pottery factories where the poisonings are occurring.
So when Marina meets Reggie again, and Reggie is proposing romantic outings, Marina asks to go with him to one of the factories. When they get there, Marina detects the feeling of black magic. This makes her ill, and vulnerable to what happens next.
Eventually, as you’d expect, Arachne works out how to reactivate the curse, and it involves Marina pricking her finger (but not with a spindle), and falling into an enchanted sleep. [It has taken a long time to get to the “sleep” mentioned in the book’s title.] Arachne sends Marina to the sanitarium, not realising Marina’s existing friendship with Andrew. And her aunt and uncles, and Elizabeth, turn up at the sanitarium to try to help cure her.
Andrew goes to the manor to confront Arachne and Reggie. And then there is a confrontation between Marina and Arachne in the dream world, where Marina had found herself.