Goodreads: Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends
Series: Ever After High #1
Published: October 1, 2013
At Ever After High, an enchanting boarding school, the children of fairytale legends prepare themselves to fulfill their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens…whether they want to or not. Each year on Legacy Day, students sign the Storybook of Legends to seal their scripted fates. For generations, the Village of Book End has whispered that refusing to sign means The End-both for a story and for a life.
As the daughter of the Evil Queen, Raven Queen’s destiny is to follow in her mother’s wicked footsteps, but evil is so not Raven’s style. She’s starting to wonder, what if she rewrote her own story? The royal Apple White, daughter of the Fairest of Them All, has a happy ever after planned for herself, but it depends upon Raven feeding her a poison apple in their future.
What if Raven doesn’t sign the Storybook of Legends? It could mean a happily never after for them both.
This review has to begin by addressing the elephant in the room: The premise of The Storybook of Legends makes absolutely no sense—and the problem is not one that can be fixed, bar rewriting the entire book with a new plot. In Hale’s fairy tale world, each new generation of characters must relive their parents’ stories. Apple White will become the next Snow White, eat an apple, fall asleep, fall in love, etc. Ashlynn Ella will become the next Cinderella, work hard, go to a ball, meet her prince, lose her shoe, etc. And so on. This social structure raises a lot of questions.
For one, why are all these characters in high school together? Holly O’Hair (Rapunzel) should have been kidnapped as a baby and raised in a tower. Ashlynn (Cinderella) should have had a terrible childhood with an evil stepmother. Briar (Sleeping) Beauty should be hidden away from spinning wheels. And so on. These fairy tale characters have already missed half of their stories! Other complications arise, however. Apple White and Raven Queen are supposed to be Snow White and the Evil Queen, which means Raven should be Apple’s stepmother. She is not. This is actually mentioned in the book and the characters shrug it off, saying, “There must be slight variations in the story.”
Yet other characters have similar relationship problems. For instance, Ashlynn Ella’s parents are Cinderella and Prince Charming—yet Ashlynn is supposed to marry Prince Charming. But would not her brother, if she had one, be Prince Charming? Whom, then, does she marry? And, since her mother Cinderella is still alive, must she suddenly die so that Ashlynn’s father can remarry an evil stepmother? And then does her family suddenly lose their fortune and royal status so Ashlynn can live as a mistreated commoner girl? The questions can go on and on and on, for each and every one of the characters. Saying that the stories must change a bit with each general of fairy tale characters is far from an adequate explanation.
Nonsensical premise aside (and we must put it aside to get anywhere with this book), The Storybook of Legends is a pretty entertaining read. It is more commercial, or perhaps gimmicky, than Hale’s typical stories, filled with cheesy modern references to musicians (Taylor Quick), and brands and with silly fairy tale puns. The characters have their own fantasy slang, such as telling each other they look “fairy nice,” apparently an attempt to make the book sound hip.
The story’s strongest point, however, is probably the characters. Though Hale is working with fairy tale “types” and with somewhat predetermined personalities, she manages to make each person come alive. Even the characters truly invested in living out their well-known destinies have unique hopes, dreams, and quirks. Apple White is determined to be the best queen she can, yet experiences moments of self-doubt. Briar Beauty wants to live life to the fullest, since she is going to spend a lot of time sleeping. Dexter Charming wishes to be as brave and, well, charming as his older brother. Hale’s star character, however, is Madeline Hatter, a slightly mad girl who speaks in Riddlish yet has the world’s biggest heart and a lot of wisdom. For me, her charisma helps her outshine even protagonist Raven Queen.
The main storyline, following Raven as she decides whether or not to sign the Storybook of Legends and seal her destiny as the world’s most evil queen, is an engaging little adventure. Raven gets into a number of escapades, some related to discovering her destiny, some just to get her through the daily trials of high school. Readers spend as much time with Raven trying to navigate friendships and classes and they do navigating magical perils. In the end, the plot does not get quite as far as readers might wish, instead saving the things that I, at least, really wanted to know for future books in the series. The Storybook of Legends just gives readers a taste, introducing characters and the main problem, without really solving it. Truthfully, I would have liked to see a tighter plot, with everything answered and tied up in a standalone, rather than an entire Ever After High series.
All that said, The Storybook of Legends is still fun, creative, and cute. Shannon Hale has written better books, but for a book trying to sell a series of Mattel dolls, it really is quality stuff. I would recommend it for readers who enjoy light fairy tale retellings and fantasy books with a modern touch.
Goodreads: The Rumpelstiltskin Problem
If you ask Vivian Vande Velde her feelings about “Rumpelstiltskin,” she would tell you the story does not make a lot of sense. If you read her preface to The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, you would probably begin to agree. Vande Velde summarizes the original tale step by step, outlining along the way where characters either do something without any explanation or do something that is explained, but illogically so. Why, indeed, would Rumpelstiltskin accept gold jewelry as payment for turning straw into gold? Apparently he can acquire all the precious metal he could ever want.
Vande Velde attempts to explain the characters’ actions in six original retellings of “Rumpelstiltskin.”
Each of the stories in this collection is fun, a little wild and weird. Vande Velde definitely reveals a quirky streak in this book, and her lighthearted tone is common to all six stories, even as the plots and characters change. All open with a line about how far in the past the story occurred, usually before something random like before sliced bread was sold in supermarkets. Some of the tales are bit more dismal than others, but they never get so depressing that Vande Velde cannot poke a little fun at herself or the characters.
Interestingly enough, although Vande Velde’s retellings are supposed to make more sense than the original story, her characters do often merit a bit of mockery. Vande Velde’s stories are all internally consistent, and her characters always offer explanations for their actions—but their decisions are sometimes still a little crazy. For instance, in one version the miller is poor and is convinced he can tell the king his daughter can turn straw into gold if he gives her three gold coins, and then he and his daughter will simply take the money and run before she is given any straw. Vande Velde gives the miller a reason for telling the king a preposterous lie, but his plan is still ridiculous.
Vande Velde also gives each character a chance to be the villain: the king, the miller, the miller’s daughter, and Rumpelstiltskin. While this does allow for variety in the retellings, it also means it is easy to catch on to the pattern, for readers to guess who will be the villain next. Of course no one expects fairy tale retellings to be overly surprising (especially ones that are only short stories, not novels), but it is a bit disappointing to be able to predict a large part of what will be “new” about a retelling you have not even started to read.
The main problem with this book: After about two tales, the reader probably wants to be done with “Rumpelstiltskin.” The stories may be different, but in the end they all have the same basic plot. This will be a challenge for readers who like to read straight through a book and be finished, rather than patiently read a section or two and replace it on the shelf for another day.
Nonetheless, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem is an imaginative and slightly quirky book, perfect for readers who want to see “Rumpelstiltskin” in a new light.
Goodreads: Strands of Bronze and Gold
Series: Strands of Bronze and Gold #1
Official Summary: The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .
When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.
Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.
Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.
Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold offers a compelling unique story for fans of retold fairy tales. It tackles “Bluebeard,” not one of the standard stories on the retold fairy tale circuit, and packages it in the nineteenth century American South. History and fairy tales are a wonderful combination, often providing opportunities for unique voices and settings. Strands of Bronze and Gold is no exception. Though Sophie does not often leave her godfather’s house, she provides readers with an inside look into the luxurious life of the Southern gentry, accentuated by the fact that she, a native of Boston, is an outsider in this rich and quiet world, too.
Sophie could be either immediately endearing or annoying, according to readers’ perspectives. She rambles from the moment she meets her godfather, explaining she is not normally so chatty but simply overwhelmed by her new surroundings. Her chattering never stops, however, even as she must be growing used to her new home, even when she meets other new people. Considering Sophie is often alone in the mansion, shut away from interactions with anyone other than her godfather, her talking may be both a coping mechanism for herself and for the readers, who barely meet any other characters, as well. In the end, however, her ramblings often make her seem rather silly.
Of course, some level of silliness is a prerequisite for the protagonist of this story. She has to walk a line between being foolish enough to become entangled in her godfather’s trap and smart enough to have some chance of getting out of it—and to keep readers for giving her up as a hopeless cause. Sophie manages this pretty well, even commenting once to the effect of, “I’ve always wondered how characters in stories could foolishly get themselves in such troubles. Now I know.”
The plot Sophie enters is at some times obvious and at others deliciously creepy. Her godfather’s obsession with her, due to his age, is one of level of disturbing. Sophie’s supernatural encounters with the dead are another. The story of the ghosts could have been more fleshed out, but mostly it seems intended as an eerie backdrop for the readers and a convenient warning mechanism for Sophie—one to which she often fails to pay any heed.
The story’s greatest strength lies in Sophie’s self-reflection. As she spends increasing time in her godfather’s world, she begins to realize she is losing her sense of self. She is abandoning her values because someone else has told her they do not matter, or because there is no one around to see whether she is behaving appropriately or not. Sophie realizes morality and identity are what she does even when no one is watching. Such moments of Sophie’s thoughts and self-evaluation are sprinkled throughout the book and can encourage readers to think more about their own ideas on principles and identity.
The book’s obsession with morality also leads to its greatest weakness, however. The book is set in the 1800s in the American South. Meaning slavery. Meaning Sophie is the cliché character who stands firm against this atrocity even as all the other characters accept it. The desire behind this characterization is understandable, even commendable. It would be difficult for modern readers to completely back a character who unequivocally approves of or even encourages slavery—but they could accept someone whose views more nuanced, caught between the passion of a cruel overseer and the zeal of a Underground Railroad conductor. Authors do a disservice to historical fiction and historical figures by vilifying characters who promote anything modern society opposes–whether slavery, segregation, anti-feminisim, etc.—and ensuring their protagonists are all outspoken advocates of modern values. Today’s readers basically agree slavery is wrong. We do not need fictional characters self-righteously throwing the fact in our faces. We can handle more complexity in characterization. We will not all turn on Sophie if, instead of raring to free all the slaves she can find, she admits her views on slavery are a little more confused.
Interestingly, the other characters do tend to be more nuanced. The house’s servants and slaves are somewhat one-dimensional, background characters who exist to drive the plot or Sophie’s own characterization. Her godfather, however, is quite complex, experiencing a wide range of moods and desires. A character Sophie meets in secrecy also has more complicated views of the world and of right and wrong.
Strands of Bronze and Gold is a fresh addition to the retold fairy tale market. It has its flaws, mostly in under-development of plotlines and minor characters, but the originality of its subject matter and its tendency to ask weighty questions of both characters and readers make it a worthwhile read for those who appreciate retold fairy tales, imaginative historical fiction, or a little darkness in their YA .
Published: March 2013
Goodreads: The Grimm Chronicles, Vol. 2
Series: The Grimm Chronicles, Vol. 2
Source: ARC received from the authors in exchange for an honest review
Summary: Alice Goodenough is a hero, selected to wield a magic pen and hunt down the Corrupted characters from the Brothers’ Grimm fairytales. She is also, however, a high school student and must also navigate the trials of senior year, including maintaining her grades, facing a bully, dealing with crushes, and competing in the upcoming fencing tournament.
Volume 2 includes Books 4, 5, and 6 of The Grimm Chronicles, as well as “The Lost Journal of Eugene Washington,” and the original Grimm fairytales that inspired the stories.
Review: Since readers can buy each book of The Grimm Chronicles separately for their e-readers, I reviewed Book 4: “The Orphanage of Doom” alone last week, to get the experience. It was exciting, but it’s great that readers get all three books in this one volume, or that it’s so easy to purchase the next in the series online because I wanted to read more, and a few of the books end on cliffhangers!
I really enjoyed Volume 1 of The Grimm Chronicles, and Volume 2 lived up to my expectations. Alice is still a spunky heroine who can exhibit her courage, her intelligence, and her limitations as a teenager and human in turn. Briar also continues to be fantastic—cute, funny, and heroic, as well. I am already adopting his habit of referring to a certain search engine as “The Google” in his honor because it’s hilarious. Now I just need to convince more of my friends to read these books so they’re in on the joke and stop staring at me oddly.
Romance fans will find Volume 2 “better” than the first. The authors introduce Chase, a spirited and athletic boy Alice is definitely interested in, even if she can’t see it herself at first. Their feelings grow naturally, adding to the action of the book but not stealing from the spotlight—the Corrupted, who are back creepier and more powerful than ever. Alice has her work cut out for her, but her hero skills are increasing with her challenges, and she is ready for action. Even more beautifully, she finds a way to apply her heroics to a real-world situation at her school, and it is arguably the most moving scene yet.
I have only one complaint: the history lessons are a little heavy-handed. Readers unfamiliar with some aspects of the Underground Railroad, the American Civil War, and the following period of segregation will undoubtedly find the characters’ explanations useful and, of course, fascinating. I think, however, Fontaine’s and Brosky’s audience are probably an intelligent bunch, and these stories will be a bit obvious and repetitive to many. Finding a good balance in explaining historical aspects without turning a novel into a textbook is always a difficult task, however, and of course there will also be some history buff reader who thinks any explanation is too much, so this is not at all a major flaw.
The Grimm Chronicles, Volume 2 is an exciting and fast-paced story that proposes knowledge can lead to adventures and solutions to problems. I can’t think of any reader who would argue with that.
Published: February 13, 2012
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Goodreads: “The Orphanage of Doom”
Series: The Grimm Chronicles, Book 4
Source: The authors provided be with an ARC of The Grimm Chronicles, Vol. 2 for review. Volume 2 contains Books 4-6 and the “Lost Journal of Eugene Washington.”
[Spoilers for Books 1-3, or Volume 1]
Summary: Alice Goodenough is still having dreams about the Corrupted she needs to kill, except now summer has ended and she needs to balance her role as hero with her schoolwork. Worse, she’s having two prophetic dreams simultaneously—one about a creepy orphanage with children screaming in the basement and another about a band who can make their audience dance against their will.
Review: “The Orphanage of Doom” is a story just as captivating as the first three books in the Grimm Chronicles series. Alice is back with her snarky yet intelligent voice, walking a fantastic line between sounding like a credible heroine and a realistic teen. In this installment, school has started once again for Alice, and she must balance the demands of her homework, her social life, and her duty as the world’s hero.
Fontaine and Brosky never let their stories feel episodic, and they add a twist in “The Orphanage of Doom” by introducing the creepiest plot and atmosphere of the series yet. Previously Alice was dealing with adults. Here, there are children’s happiness and lives at stake, and the reader cannot help feeling as badly for them as Alice, as she spends night after night dreaming about their sufferings in preparation to take down the Corrupted who has trapped them. The imagery of her dreams, and then the reality, is brilliantly chilling.
The authors also dig a little deeper by introducing Corrupted who have larger plots than before. Alice’s previous enemies were dangerous, but tended to take down one victim at a time. In Book 4, things get worse, as the Corrupted victimize larger groups of people and even intentionally plot to ruin the world. Higher stakes keep the series exciting and also encourage Alice to continue growing as a heroine. She is capable but not allowed to become overly confident or cocky.
A great addition to the series that hints Alice’s story will continue to become bigger and more exciting with each book.
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #2
The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth…
Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.
Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.
Review: Scarlet is a fast-paced and exciting read written with the same fresh writing and characterization as Cinder. Meyer expertly keeps the series new by blending Cinder’s story in with newcomers’ Scarlet and Wolf, and it will be interesting to see if she does the same with books three and four, gradually building from a base of one main character to four (and their love interests?).
Scarlet and Wolf are both as engaging to read about as Cinder and Kai. Scarlet has a fantastic survivalist attitude and is endearingly dedicated to her grandmother. Wolf is a bit rough around the edges, but is not a stereotyped bad boy. He is fantastically complex, and will repeatedly surprise readers with his actions and motivations.
The overarching plot, in contrast, is about as predictable as that of Cinder. Yet in the same way, this is not a big enough flaw to deter anyone from reading. The way Meyer tells her stories and the characters with which she populates them always manage to support them—and this is truly the mark of a skilled writer. Readers do learn new and surprising facts about Lunars, however.
Scarlet is a strong addition to the Lunar Chronicles series, blending the best aspects of Cinder with new characters and plot lines.
Published: February 2013
Goodreads: The Crimson Thread: A Retelling of Rumpelstiltskin
Series: Once Upon a Time
Summary: In 1880, Bridget and her family move from Ireland to New York in search of a better life. They are unprepared for the squalid conditions of their new home and the widespread prejudice they face, but Bridget’s father always makes the most of every situation. His optimism and imagination look as though they might lead his family into trouble, however, when he promises his wealthy employer, head of a giant textile company, that Bridget can create the world’s most beautiful dresses. Bridget will have to deliver, or she and her father will both be fired. Fortunately, a mysterious man from her neighborhood seems willing to help her—but for a price.
Review: Weyn creates a unique fairytale retelling in The Crimson Thread by utilizing the genre of historical fiction. Readers get the benefit of the interesting, slightly foreign setting of 1880s New York while seeing how “magic” might happen in real life. In fact, the only times true magic enters the book—the opening and closing statements by a mysterious fairy historian—are its weakest moments. It is much more interesting to see Weyn translate fairytale moments like “spinning straw into gold” into a real world setting.
The historical accuracy might not be all that it can be; some of the details seem off. Yet Weyn does hit many of the major issues of the era, including xenophobia, crowded tenements, sweatshops, child labor laws, and more. Readers experience the big picture of the time period, which is probably what will stick with them, rather than details about the prices of food. Also, the point in a book like this is most often the characters and the plot. The setting is important, but often as the backdrop to the actions or as the machinery that influences their lives. Bridget’s concerns about working conditions matter because they lead her to make certain life decisions. And these are the types of facts that Weyn gets right.
The story itself will lead readers through a maze of emotions as they sympathize with Bridget and her family upon their arrival in New York, hope for their success, and cheer for what triumphs they earn. The characters Bridget encounters during her journey are similarly diverse, hailing from all nations and walks of life. Even more interestingly, there are two love interests—but this is not the average love triangle. Both men seem like attractive and viable options, and readers will stress over Bridget’s decisions before finding satisfaction in her fairytale ending.
The Crimson Thread is a creative addition to the Once Upon a Time series. Weyn introduces her readers to the magic of the ordinary and to the good in every bad situation. Her book is about hard work and hope, and readers will love learning along with her spunky heroine Bridget.
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Goodreads: The Grimm Chronicles Vol. 1
Series: The Grimm Chronicles #1-3
Source: ARC from the authors in exchange for an honest review
Goodreads Summary: 200 years ago, the Brothers Grimm unleashed their stories upon the world. Literally. Now the characters of the Grimms’ stories walk among us. With every day that passes, they grow more evil. They are the Corrupted, and only a hero can stop them.
For 18-year-old Alice Goodenough, that means taking precious time off from her summer vacation. In addition to volunteering at the local library, Alice must stop the Corrupted who are now actively hunting her down. With the help of her magic pen and her trusty rabbit friend, the world has suddenly gotten a lot more complex. The Corrupted are everywhere, and only Alice can see them for what they truly are.
This book contains the first 3 episodes of the critically acclaimed series: Episode 1: Prince Charming Must Die!
Episode 2: Happily Never After
Episode 3: Revenge of the Castle Cats
Review: The Grimm Chronicles, as a book that draws its inspiration from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, has a lot to say on the subject of stories. But Fontaine and Brosky are not just all theoretical talk. They tell an amazing story themselves.
Alice is the perfect heroine to star in this book. She is smart, confident, and strong—a great role model for readers and a believable hero to take on the Corrupted running amok in our world. A bit of a snarky attitude, as well as a keen interest in her appearance, even while preparing to take on monsters, also make her human and teen. Alice is someone readers can root for, admire, and believe in all at once. Fontaine and Brosky have clearly been observing real people.
Her partner, Briar, is an equally fantastic addition to the story. He is a bit ridiculous—a giant talking rabbit is helping to save the day?—but it suits him. Briar adds heart and humor to a story that could have been too focused on episodically taking down a series of villains. Yet his intelligence, too, should not be underrated. Fontaine and Brosky knows that their audience is not simply teens, it is readers, and that as thoughtful people themselves, they can appreciate characters who know saving the day takes brains in addition to brawn.
Plot-wise, things remain fast-paced and exciting. The authors keep each installment the proper length and make sure to vary the stakes each time, so that nothing is ever repetitive or stagnant. Alice meets a variety of Corrupted (lots of fun can be had guessing which fairy tale character each is!), but she does not simply stalk, kill, and repeat. She interacts with each Corrupted differently, and learns more about her role in her own story each time. Occasionally, things do get a little unbelievable. In the third episode, for instance, a character solves a problem he does not appear to have the qualifications for. Yet by the end of the tale, none of this ever seems to matter. Fontaine and Brosky want to tell a good story—and they do. Readers will be willing to suspend some disbelief for its sake.
Original. Creative. Exciting. Smart. Fontaine and Brosky weave a brilliant modern day fairy tale focused on taking the old ones down.
Published: August 3, 2012
Source: Giveaway at Debz Bookshelf
Goodreads Summary: It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.
When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.
The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past – and hers?
Review: Enchanted is an absolutely delightful and adorable book that kept me reading way past the time I should have put it down and done some homework. Although it is YA, and one has the feeling it must be a happily ever after sort of book, Kontis includes enough darkness to suggest that things could go very terribly wrong for Sunday and her sisters. They certainly have before.
Enchanted is formally based on the “The Frog Prince,” but Kontis weaves in just about every other fairytale she can get her hands on and puts Sunday’s family smack in the middle of most of them. Not all of them end happily. What stories do not make a prolonged appearance in the book get subtle nods, such as an old woman selling Sunday an apple.
In general, this fairytale free-for-all is exciting, and the reader can have tons of fun matching events with tales. At times, however, it adds confusion to the book—for I found Enchanted, particularly in the beginning, very confusing. One of my overwhelming and repeated thoughts was, “I have no idea what she is talking about.” (I always like to think this is a failing on the book’s part and not my own because I flatter myself as an English major that I ought to be able to follow the plot of a YA novel.) Some of these instances I was ultimately able to brush off as references to fairytales I am unfamiliar with, and then I moved on. But sometimes my confusion came from the way Sunday explains things, or from Kontis’s writing style, which occasionally gives the impression important transitional paragraphs or even chapters are missing. It is a bit jumpy.
So why did I love Enchanted so much? Ultimately, I found my bewilderment did not matter. I may not have followed some of the specifics of the story, particularly background information, but the main attraction is obviously Sunday and her prince. And they are just so cute! Rumbold has so many romantic lines and does so many romantic things it is impossible not to fall in love with him. Sunday is equally lovable, with a true heart and lots of spirit. She is a fantastic protagonist, loyal to friends and family and skilled at writing. (Every reader loves a character who writes.) Briefly, their love story is beautiful, and that is generally the point of fairytale retellings.
Enchanted is creative, imaginative, and a true treasure chest of fairytales. A perfect read for hopeless romantics and those who like their fairytales with just a bit of edge.
Published: May 2012
Goodreads: A Pearl Among Princes
Summary: On the secret island of Miramore, the peasants work all year to host the summer training for a select group of princes. Each year, the princes return home more charming—and the peasants stay, fearful of the fiery whirlpools that would drown them and the deadly spiked shoals in the water. But the rules have changed. This year, instead of returning home to marry princesses, the princes are allowed to marry anyone, and Gracepearl Coal is determined to win one’s heart and passage away from Miramore.
Review: From the summary, I was expecting a fun, light read from this book and not necessarily an artistic masterpiece. However, A Pearl Among Princes failed at even being pure entertainment for me, primarily due to problems in world-building and simple awkwardness.
Miramore, apparently, is an island in our world. The first hint this is so is a random reference to Joan of Arc; eventually Gracepearl tells the readers directly that it is in our world. The location of Miramore, however, is kept a secret from everyone except the princes of the twelve branches who visit each year. Even assuming this story takes place in a time period before technology like satellites or airplanes, this explanation is hard to believe.
And, if this is true, it raises the question of where these princes are from. England? Spain? China? There is no indication that they are from any known part of the world. They do not hail from actual countries, but rather for places named for trees. They are from the houses of Birch, Maple, Elm, Oak, etc. (Which gives the strong impression these princes are all from Europe.) Basically, this entire book would have worked much better if it had been allowed to occur in some unspecified fantasy land.
The characters do not do much to help this flimsy backstory. Their speech is heavily inspired by fantasy, and sadly ends up sounding ridiculous. There are some books where asking, “How go classes?” sounds normal or even epic; A Pearl Among Princes is not one. Part of the trouble is that Gracepearl does not write/speak this way as she narrates this story in first person, which creates a huge disconnect between the speech she uses with the reader and the speech she uses with other characters.
Also, a lot of the characters are just mean. One of the opening scenes shows Gracepearl and her best friends rating the princes on their looks as they disembark their boats. A similar scene of men ranking women would cause outrage (and such actions have caused significant problems in real-world situations). Inverting the genders does not make it any more acceptable. Gracepearl and her friends also have cute little nicknames for the people they dislike. Perhaps the “Muffets” are silly and boy-obsessed and perhaps “Tattlebug” is too nosy; that does not justify name-calling and certainly does not make Gracepearl endearing. (Additionally, Gracepearl’s silly statements like “Flirting is fun!” sometimes make it questionable whether she is even better than the Muffets at all.)
Worst, however, is the entire premise of the book. Gracepearl wants badly to get off the island. She believes marrying a prince is the only way to do so, and is perfectly alright with marrying for little other reason. Sure, she is also interested in looks and picks out the princes who are genuinely nice. The fact remains, however, that she never seems quite sure if she actually loves them. All she wants is a boat. This makes her something of a gold-digger.
This book appears to be an attempt at an original fairytale. There is the whole peasant marrying a prince theme, a mysterious island, and nursery rhymes scattered about that give this impression. Yet the execution is wrong. Gracepearl spends a lot of time discussing whether someone is really a prince (ie. whether he is kind), but she is no princess. The author obviously expects readers to like Gracepearl, but she gives them no reason to do so. I, for one, do not see any particular reason she deserves a happy ending.