The Stepsister Scheme is the first book in Hines' Princess series that takes our traditional beliefs about the tales of the Prinecesses Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and gives them a new, old twist. Basing the princesses' backgrounds on the darker Grimm's versions, rather than the Disney-ified versions most of us grew up with, he then gives these ladies the strength of character to fight against their personal injustices and protect their loved ones.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Princess Danielle (de Glas) Whiteshore – more commonly known as Cinderella – who is having trouble adjusting to her new life as wife to her charming Prince Armand and seeing herself as a princess, not a servant. I was concerned that Hines would just expand on the sword-wielding, take no-nonsense Danielle from one of my favorite films Ever After, but I like that this Danielle isn't imbued with self-confidence and still defaults to acting subservient from years of being treated as such by her stepmother and stepsisters. Unlike Ever After, this Cinderella retains her ability to communicate with animals – albeit mostly telepathically.
After narrowly avoiding being assassinated by her stepsister and told that her husband has been kidnapped, Danielle soon discovers that her mother-in-law Queen Beatrice has a habit of taking in stray princesses and protects her kingdom behind the scenes through the use of secret passageways, an enchanted map, and the talents of warrior Princess Talia Malak-al-Dahshat (Sleeping Beauty) and sorceress Princess Ermillina Curtana of Allesandria (Snow White). Queen Bea (love that little wink!) encourages Talia and Snow to let Danielle help rescue Prince Armand. The girls reluctantly agree and soon discover that while Danielle might not be a skilled swordswoman, her determination and ingenuity are an asset to their quest to infiltrate the lands of fairy and retrieve the Prince.
The Stepsister Scheme does a great job of allowing the princesses to show their strengths and faults, lets them to learn from one another, gives them worthy adversaries to fight, and allows them to struggle with failure. All in all, it's a well-balanced, action adventure with interesting and well rounded characters that you root to succeed. I appreciated that the girls earlier life struggles differ from the happily-ever-after versions, and therefore, color how they act now that they are in control. There were a few parts of the story that dragged a bit, but given that this is the first novel in a series, I chalked that up to information that may play out in subsequent novels. Over all I'd say that Hines did a terrific job of meshing lightness and darkness to bring to life princesses that are more worthy of emulation than their Disney counterparts.