I’ve read many (many) fairy tale retellings, but rarely have I come across fairy tale crossovers, mixing characters from more than one tale. That’s exactly the premise of Jim C. Hines’ Princess Series, of which I just read the second one for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. This also goes towards my Finishing the Series challenge (two more books in this series to go!) Since I hate to start out by reviewing Book Two, I’ll just tell you a bit about both, and try for a minimum of spoilers for the first one.
The Princess series books (so far, at least) are about adventures after the traditional fairy tale ends. The main character is Danielle, also known as Cinderella. The first book, The Stepsister Scheme, opens with Danielle recently married to her handsome prince, Armand. Her stepfamily, however, is not ready to accept defeat, as becomes clear when stepsister Charlotte attacks Danielle, and kidnaps Armand. Fortunately, Danielle finds valuable allies ready to help her rescue her prince. Her new mother-in-law, Queen Beatrice, likes to take princesses-in-need under her wing, and has a kind of secret service made up of Snow White, a powerful sorceress (she doesn’t like the term witch) and Talia (Sleeping Beauty), who has used her fairy-given gift of grace to become a skilled fighter. Together, the princessess set off for the realm of fairies to rescue the prince.
Book Two, The Mermaid’s Madness, brings in another fairy tale–and this is definitely not Disney’s version. In the original story, the little mermaid can’t marry her prince, and instead sacrifices herself to save him. Hines’ mermaid killed her prince, and went mad as a consequence. With Queen Beatrice mortally wounded and a war brewing between humans and merfolk, the princesses have to find a way to capture the mermaid, the only one with power to save the queen.
There’s so much to enjoy about these books. I love the interpretation on the princesses. Their abilities are grounded in the original fairy tales (Talia gets skills from her fairy gifts, Snow White’s magic revolves around mirrors), but reinterpreted to make the girls so much stronger and more powerful than they ever were in the originals. I love the gender reversal of the first book–not only are these princesses not sitting around waiting to be rescued, they’re setting out to rescue the prince! When I was around ten, I started writing a short story about a knight who was rescued by a girl. The story never went very far, but I feel like it was motivated by some of the same impulses that make me love this series.
The girls are complex characters as well. We get bits and pieces of backstory for them all, and it becomes clear that these girls didn’t live Disney movies, and maybe not even the Brothers Grimm stories. Talia, at least, is coming from an even older and much darker version of Sleeping Beauty. They have tragedies and they have complexities. But there’s also humor in here too. The relationship between the three girls is often a lot of fun, and it’s nice to see a story focusing on female friendship.
Much as I enjoy that, it also brings me to the one thing I don’t like as well. I feel like Armand is under-developed as a character. With Danielle as the lead (though occasionally Snow or Talia will narrate as well), I feel like her husband should have a bigger part! He’s in it just enough for me to notice that he’s not in it enough, if that makes sense. I love the focus on the girls, but I’d like a little more balance to give Armand and Danielle’s relationship some time too.
That’s a minor complaint about an excellent series, though. If you like fairy tales and strong heroines, these are the books to read. They’re from the grown-up section (is there a proper term for that?) and I’d probably classify them as appropriate for older YA, because of some of the darker themes. I’d recommend starting with the first book, as a better way to get to know the characters, though the plots are independent. I think I enjoyed the second one a bit more, but more because I was getting to know the characters better than because it was an inherently better book. They’re both great!
Author’s Site: http://www.jimchines.com/