J.M.'s Reviews > The Two Princesses of Bamarre

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
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Jun 24, 09

bookshelves: young-adult, speculative-fiction
Read in September, 2006

While waiting for a friend, I ducked into a Dollar General store just to kill some time and found this book for a dollar. I'm a sucker for fantasy, but what really piqued my interest in this book was the phrase on the back, "the incurable Gray Death." By now you should know that I'm a big fan of diseases ~ they're one of my favorite topics to read about, and I have more books about Ebola and the plague and fictitious biohazard agents than the average person reads in a lifetime. I figured for a buck, I'd give this one a try.

I didn't realize that this was a young adult book (despite the fact that it's almost 300 pages in length). Not that that bothers me ~ one of my favorite writers, Jude Watson, writes only YA books. They're quick reads and there is a much broader spectrum of stories available for younger people now than there were when I was that age. I started reading Stephen King in the 6th grade simply because there were no horror writers for young adults (and now we have Goosebumps and all the take-offs that series spawned).

The main problem I have with young adult books, however, is that they tend to cut back on the prose to keep the story engaging to a young reader. Unfortunately, the writer in me wants that prose ~ I want to read page after page of internal dialogue, or feel the world around me through paragraphs of description. This book doesn't really give you that, and there are places where I felt that the author skimped on the writing just to squeeze as much into these 300 pages as she could without losing her readers (look at J.K. Rowling ~ she has no qualms writing 700 pages for young readers because she trusts them enough to know they'll read it if it's a good story).

This book is about two sisters, princesses of a country called Bamarre. They're as different as night and day ~ Meryl is a strong girl who dreams of becoming a warrior one day, and Addie is practically scared of her shadow. Meryl plans to find the cure for the mysterious illness known only as the Gray Death, but Addie makes her promise to stay by her side until she's married (they're barely 16, I think) because she's too afraid of living alone (in a palace full of servants, of course). Unfortunately, Meryl is the one who comes down with the disease (saw that one coming, didn't you?) and Addie decides to swallow her fears and face ogres, gryphons, and dragons to find the cure. Along the way, she falls in love with her father's sorcerer (natch) and discovers her own inner strength, yadda yadda.

Don't get me wrong ~ it was a good story. There were parts that were almost too convenient for the plot (the gifts the sorcerer gives her for the journey, the seven league boots and spyglass her mother left for her when she died, everything about the dragon and finding the cure), but if I read this when I was ten, I would have loved it completely. Now with the cynical eyes of an adult, I didn't like Addie's constant "I'm so scared of everything, woe is me!" attitude (since she's the main character and the story is told in the first person from her point of view, it's almost too much), and the whole bit between her and the sorcerer was like please. And like I said, I would've liked more of a story rather than a few deus ex machina elements tossed in to get the characters out of a jam.

Still, this wasn't enough to make me stop reading, and since it was a YA book, I finished it in a few hours. While it's not on my list of all-time favorites, it wasn't bad, and I think a younger reader would simply love it.
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