(I don't know if anyone would consider this a spoilery review, so please be warned . . .)
Danielle is the princess formerly known as Cinderwench. Predi...more(I don't know if anyone would consider this a spoilery review, so please be warned . . .)
Danielle is the princess formerly known as Cinderwench. Predictibly, she's having a hard time settling into her new role in life, despite the fact that she genuinely loves her husband. She has a hard time establishing a relationship with her servants, as she finds it difficult to tell them what to do and to allow them to do their own work. She doesn't enjoy learning the protocol she needs to know. However, all that changes when her stepsister, Charlotte, reappears in her life. One assassination attempt later, Danielle finds that she must become assertive if she is to live--and if she is rescue her husband, currently at the mercy of her stepsisters. She has the help of Snow, a witch with mirror magic, and the mysterious Talia, known popularly as Sleeping Beauty.
The Stepsister Scheme is an engaging read, and I've been looking forward to reading it ever since talking to the author, Jim C. Hines, at a conference in Minnesota in 2006. I used to study fairy tales as an academic area of pursuit, and I can say that Hines has clearly done his research. He knows the older, darker, alternate versions of these tales quite well. However, he doesn't bludgeoun (sp?) his readers with that knowledge. Instead, it unspools slowly as their history becomes relevant to the plot. Shrek 3 used many of these same princesses to tell a far different story. In that movie, their passive traits (ex: Sleeping Beauty's ability to fall asleep at will and trip soldiers with her body) are used to save the day. Here, Hines tells the story of women that refuse to be passive and reshape their various curses into strengths.
I liked this book, and I look forward to the sequel, The Mermaid's Madness, promised in October 2009. The cover copy made this book sound like it was going to be much funnier than it was, but once I adapted to Hines' humor, that wasn't an issue for me any longer. The next novel has the potential to be stronger (and maybe funnier?) now that these characters have been established in their roles.(less)
When I read The Stepsister Scheme last year, I was unprepared for Jim C. Hine's humor. The book's cover copy led me to expect some kind of slapstick a...moreWhen I read The Stepsister Scheme last year, I was unprepared for Jim C. Hine's humor. The book's cover copy led me to expect some kind of slapstick action, and that isn't what I got. Oddly enough, I was thrilled, because the book was much better than anything I had expected. At the end of my review, I stated that much would depend upon the second book, The Mermaid's Madness Princess Book 2. After creating a situation where Talia, Snow, and Danielle were cast as the Queen's version of Charlie's Angels, book two would prove how that scenario would continue to grow--or falter.
I'm thrilled to say that this was a thoroughly enjoyable book. Once again, Hines has shown that he's a great researcher and a great storyteller. He's taken Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale and imagined it into something new, greater, and ultimately more realistic.
The novel opens with Danielle, Talia, Snow, and Queen Beatrice en route to deliver "tribute" to the mermaid (they prefer "undine") king. It's a ceremonial thing; the royals are friendly, and the tribute is nothing more than strawberry preserves. However, they discover that the king is dead--murdered by his daughter. She's insane, and she's not friendly to Beatrice at all--leaving the queen with a mortal wound. The princess trio find themselves tracking down the mermaid queen, Lirea, in a desperate attempt to save Beatrice's life.
One of my favorite features of this book was the emphasis on storytelling. Mermaids are singers, and their magic flows through their voices. With the importance of their voices in every day life, they attach great importance to oral history. Hine's novel is quite clear on the fact that history is changed by the teller, and each character's version of the story is colored by his or her perceptions of it--as well as what they want others to perceive. Add to this the fact that the princesses actions are becoming the stuff of legend, and you have a very rich, thoughtful, and funny novel.(less)
Megan is a girl with problems. She's been dating Ryan for the last month --but her dates tend to turn into group outings with his best friend, Samanth...moreMegan is a girl with problems. She's been dating Ryan for the last month --but her dates tend to turn into group outings with his best friend, Samantha. She really likes him, and she can't help but be jealous of his friend, especially since they're working together at an amusement park all summer. What's a girl to do? Like any other jealous girlfriend, Megan quits her job at the bookstore and takes one at the park where she can keep an eye on Ryan.
Megan has another problem, too. She can see her dead twin sister. Little Remy has been haunting Megan since she died ten years ago. Lately, though, Remy is getting angrier and angrier--and Megan is getting scared. It's a relief when Megan meets Luke, and Luke tells her that he can see and communicate with Remy, too. He agrees to help Remy move on, but it might be Megan that he's more interested in helping . . .
This is a fantastic novel, one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Marrone has a gift for portraying real teens in terrible circumstances; while the events of her novels are unreal, her characters are thoroughly grounded in reality. Too many YA novels tend to feature Mary Sue-ish protagonists--that good girl that every girl imagines herself to be. Marrone doesn't do that. Her characters have serious flaws--they're jealous, selfish, short-sighted, easily fold under peer pressure . . . but they also want to be more.
Having read two of Marrone's books, I can safely say that she's now on my "must buy" list.(less)
This is the first Jenna Black novel I've read. While I don't know yet if I want to try her adult books yet, I will definitely pick up a copy of the ne...moreThis is the first Jenna Black novel I've read. While I don't know yet if I want to try her adult books yet, I will definitely pick up a copy of the next book in the Faeriewalker series.
Dana Hathaway is fed up with her mother. They've been moving frequently throughout her childhood and teen years in order to stay off Dana's father's radar, and the moves have made life extremely unpleasant for Dana. Whenever she becomes close to someone, it's time to move again. In addition to the moves, her mother is an alcoholic, and Dana is ashamed of her. Since they move so often, Dana doesn't have a friend or support network to help her deal with the situation. When her mom drives herself to Dana's voice recital--falling down drunk--she's had enough.
Dana has always known that her father was Fae. Her mother (when sober) claimed that he was a bad, bad, man and she fled Avalon with Dana to keep them safe. When drunk, she admitted that he was a good guy but that being near him would turn Dana into a pawn in the politics of the Fae. Unable to bear her mother's drinking any longer, Dana contacts her father and arranges to run away to Avalon.
Avalon is a unique city, and one of the most interesting parts of Black's created world. Avalon is the one place that's both within the borders of Faerie and the mortal world. Both technology and magic work in Avalon. Upon her arrival there, Dana quickly becomes enmeshed in the power struggles between people and Fae that she never knew existed. She's kidnapped, and rescued by other kidnappers . . . Everyone wants her in their custody, as her very presence is enough to change the balance of power completely. As the cover copy explains, Dana is a Faeriewalker--the only living person that can cross between Faerie and the mortal realm at will. She can bring magic to the mortal realm and technology to Faerie. As one character explains, she's the equivalent of a nuclear missile.
Through all of this, one thing quickly becomes clear to Dana: she must become capable of securing her own safety. And she needs to learn who she can trust.
I read this novel in less than four hours. As soon as I picked it up, I did not want to put it down, and I'm sure that I read it again before the summer's out. Black has an excellent sense of pacing, and she constantly ratchets up the tension in the book. This book is not literature, but Black's prose is smooth and fits the narrative well. Dana doesn't always make good decisions in the course of the book, but Black does make those choices believable. The secondary characters are interesting, and while most of them want to use Dana for their own ends, their motives are often complicated.
I've been disappointed by many of the YA paranormals in recent years, and this book has many of the tropes that are so often overused (flirting with real social problems like alcohol, a willingness to discuss sex & sexuality, magic on the edges of everyday life, and the mysterious heritage of our otherwise desperate-to-be-normal heroine . . .). However, that said, Black's Avalon and Dana's character are both interesting enough to move beyond the realm of stereotype and into the realm of good storytelling.
I look forward to book two. (The Erl-King? How awesome will he be?!)
Edit: on my second read, I can say that I still really enjoy this book. This time through, I noticed just how much Dana's mother's addiction shapes Dana. Very well done. (less)
Jim C. Hines continues to surprise me. While the first two books in his Princess series were strong, this one was even better.
Having created the scena...moreJim C. Hines continues to surprise me. While the first two books in his Princess series were strong, this one was even better.
Having created the scenario whereby Talia, Snow, and Danielle work for Queen Beatrice as her equivalent of Charlie's Angels in The Stepsister Scheme and complicated their relationship in The Mermaid's Madness, Hines sets out to settle some of their history in book three.
As the book opens, things have been stable for about a year, but that stability won't last long. A package is delivered for Danielle (aka Cinderella). It contains a note and a toe--the note is from Roudette (the noted assassin also known as Little Red Riding Hood) and the toe belonged to Charlotte, one of Danielle's stepsisters. Roudette wants to meet with Danielle, alone, or Charlotte will die. Talia--and everyone else--knows this is a trap. Roudette must have a contract on Danielle, and there's no way that they're going to allow the meeting. Talia has tangled with Roudette before, and she knows exactly how dangerous this assassin can be.
And, that, in a nutshell, is precisely the problem. Roudette doesn't want Danielle; she wants Talia. Talia's (former) in-laws have finally decided to take action against her, and it will take all three princesses to save the life of their friend and her former kingdom from the return of her curse . . .
This is an excellent series, and I recommend it highly for those interested in fairy tales and those that like adventure fantasy in general.(less)
I enjoyed this book quite a bit more than I expected I would.
Years ago, I used to study fairy tales. I was working on my Master's, and I thought it wo...moreI enjoyed this book quite a bit more than I expected I would.
Years ago, I used to study fairy tales. I was working on my Master's, and I thought it would be great to study them for my career. Gradually, that passion faded, but I'm still interested when I see a retelling. (No, I do not watch Once Upon a Time on ABC. The pilot was too Disney-fied for me, and I didn't want to continue with it.) This particular retelling was quite interesting but not without it problems.
Firstly, I think it's probably a good thing that Dixon comes from a large family. Her biography at the back of the book states that she was one of eleven children. That experience has given her insight into the dynamics of a large family. While each of the sisters may have very little time to herself in the narrative, each of them does have a distinct personality, and that personality is more distinct the older they are. For some of the younger sisters, like Ivy, her distinguishing feature is something as minor as her appetite. However, knowing that one sister is perpetually hungry changes the family dynamic in that when one of the sisters is not hungry, she shares her food with Ivy. And when Ivy shares food with someone, it's a very powerful sign that she likes that person. These small details about the family dynamic lend the story more depth than it might otherwise have had.
My problem with this story is one that often occurs with fairy tale retellings: it's too patriarchal. (view spoiler)[Azalea, our main character, does act to save the day, and that's good. As Robin McKinley would say, she's a girl that "does things." However, Azalea is also in the grips of a patriarchal power structure, and she embraces that. Azalea lives in a constitutional monarchy. The constitution was established after an uprising deposed an evil magic-using king, but the details of the constitution or its powersharing agreement are never clear. As the oldest of the king's twelve daughters, she cannot rule the country. Instead, her husband--the next king--will be chosen by Parliament. When she does fall in love, with a soldier no less, her father manages to get him approved by Parliament, so she won't be forced into a loveless arranged marriage. However, when she learns that he's been approved, her father tells her that she must propose to her young man because she outranks him. Once she's alone with her young man, Azalea refuses to propose and instead asks him to propose. While I'm happy that she's going to marry for love, the fact that she does not mind being unable to inherit due to her sex, and is unwilling to keep the little tiny bit of power she had in favor of supporting gender norms bugs me. Once married, and once her father is deceased, she will never be Queen. She will be the Queen consort, which is something entirely different. While the older sisters all fear an arranged marriage, everything turns out OK simply because their father is benevolent. He allows them to marry the man of their choice but does nothing to change the social systems that grant him the right to dispose of his daughters as he chooses. (hide spoiler)] As a former fairy tale scholar, I can only imagine what Jack Zipes (one of the leading fairy tale scholars writing in English) would think of this book.
Despite that major flaw, I still rated this book four stars. I loved the way that Dixon incorporated the importance of dance throughout the book. Early on, it's clear that Alexia thinks of sexuality in terms of dancing, and the intimacy of dance appears throughout the book. Dixon provides her characters with a reason why they would choose to go to a magical location in order to dance and why that might be tempting for them. She recognized the holes in the original tale's plot and found ways to fill them appropriately. I like that.
I was a little surprised by how young it read; while I could enjoy the narrative voice, I thought it was aimed at a very young teen audience. As a feminist and an adult, I would have no problems with a teen reading this book, but I'd want to talk to him or her afterward about gender roles.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
While I did enjoy this book, I think I may be too old for it.
The book had all the hallmarks of one that I would have loved when I was a teen: a nice d...moreWhile I did enjoy this book, I think I may be too old for it.
The book had all the hallmarks of one that I would have loved when I was a teen: a nice delicate romance, a plucky best friend, past secrets intruding on the present, and some solid folklore. Sadly, I'm not a teen any more. While I did like the format of the book (three narrators in alternating chapters, with one narrator telling the story through letters--which are then printed in a font that resembles handwriting) and liked Preble's voice (at one point, her main character, Ann, states that Rasputin's beard looked as if it were "made of ick"), the book wasn't very deep and didn't have enough layers to truly hold my attention. It took a week for me to read this book. If I had been truly drawn to it, I could have finished it in one day.(less)
Another lightweight entry in the Elemental Masters series. This one tries to follow the "Donkeyskin" story by Charles Perrault. As the book opens, it...moreAnother lightweight entry in the Elemental Masters series. This one tries to follow the "Donkeyskin" story by Charles Perrault. As the book opens, it would seem that Lackey does a good job of staying close to the tale, but by the end of the book, it's very much another one in her series. That's not necessarily a bad thing--the final confrontation is as good as anything that Lackey has written. However, despite her willingness to include extreme violence, Lackey's books are never all that horrifying. As readers, we know precisely what Susanne's father wants to do to her (heck, even the cover copy gives that away!), but Lackey's writing lacks the necessary punch for it to really sink in and disturb. I don't want to say that Lackey dodges the hard questions or fails to explore the darker side of this tale. That's simply not true. The sad fact is that Lackey is just not a good enough writer to make readers invest in the characters in such a way as to be horrified. She used to be able to that; her Last Herald-Mage series is one of the most disturbing litanies of character torture that I've ever read. But this book doesn't have that emotional force.
For a very dark, very emotional version of this tale, I recommend Robin McKinley's Deerskin. Be warned: it is dark, and if you read Lackey for her lightweight nature, you might not like Deerskin. But more than anything else, Deerskin is a novel about healing, and it is good.
Perhaps that's part of my problem with this book. Despite the horrific events Lackey writes about, only one character is deeply wounded mentally and still in recovery at the end of the book. If our protagonists can walk away from such things without psychic bruises, is it any wonder when I, as a reader, feel next to nothing of their pain?(less)