Goodreads: Princess of the Silver Woods
Series: Princess #3
A decade has passed since Petunia and her sisters defeated the King Under Stone with the help of a young soldier. The bonds keeping the evil king’s sons imprisoned, however, are breaking. Oliver, a dispossessed noble and sometime bandit, wants desperately to protect Petunia from harm. But webs of magic and treachery lie all around and even true love may not prove strong enough to break them. A retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” (with a dash of Robin Hood).
I read the final book in the Princess trilogy years after the first two, which may have been a mistake as it seems written primarily to appeal to fans. Jessica Day George crams all the old faces into the work, including the old villains, so that it seems almost like a repeat of Princess of the Midnight Ball, except that the characters are less defined, presumably because readers are supposed to remember them. I didn’t, which meant that I had to rely on the new elements (new setting, new love interest, new fairy tale) to keep me engaged. Unfortunately, the number of characters the book attempts to balance means that Petunia and Oliver, the supposed protagonists, do not receive as much attention as they ought. The book simply tries to do too much—set up a romance, reunite old characters, defeat an ancient evil, and restore a dispossessed noble to his property—and fails to do any of it adequately.
The first couple chapters attempt nobly to present Petunia, the youngest princess, as a protagonist in her own right. According to the timeline given in the book, she was only six or seven during the events of Princess of the Midnight Ball, so George has a lot of room with which to work. She relies on the usual characteristics given to younger siblings—an annoyance that everyone consistently overlooks her in favor of her older sisters, a resentment against hand-me-down clothes. She takes that to make Petunia a spunky little thing (her height is constantly referred to in the beginning as a defining characteristic, then suddenly dropped from the story altogether) anxious to prove her daring and wit. It works, until her sisters appear.
Once all twelve sisters reunite, George clearly has trouble balancing them. Like most books featuring the twelve princesses, this one relies on giving defining characteristics to three or four, then randomly mentioning the others in contexts like “Hyacinth walked into the room” just so readers know the author hasn’t forgotten them. One might suppose that George would at least continue to spotlight Petunia—a focus on her would not be amiss in what is her book. However, Petunia is quickly swamped by the stampede of characters—not only sisters but also lovers and husbands and loyal men and old allies. When she does appear, she is sometimes indistinguishable from her sister Poppy, whose main trait is also boldness. I often had to reread passages to figure out whether Poppy or Petunia had been speaking.
Oliver also fails to distinguish himself as a character in his own right. His character seems to change based on the necessities of the plot. I have no idea whether I could rightly describe him as brave or daring or honest (he isn’t, but he wants to be?); mostly he comes across as “nice”. His role in the story has a fluid-like quality, so even that fails to define him—he emerges variously as the wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood,” the woodcutter, and even Robin Hood.
George regrettably does not incorporate elements from “Little Red Riding Hood” or from Robin Hood in a particularly original way and the links are tenuous at best. Petunia wears a red cloak (and is rather obsessive about it), the thieves in the forest call themselves “wolves,” and at one point Oliver cuts some wood. Oliver bears a resemblance to Robin Hood in that he has lost his rightful property and now leads some men in the forest. Often these elements do not emerge in a believable way—Oliver’s story about his decision to rob travelers in order to sustain an earldom simply does not make sense, though a not insignificant portion of the book attempts to make it sound plausible.
The final chapters of the book are possibly the strongest. The action picks up, the sisters show some great character development in terms of facing their enemy (except for Lily, who apparently used to be really brave and a terrific shot, but now mostly sobs), and even the villains seem more human this time. The ending is a trifle neat, but I expected that from a fairy tale retelling.
I enjoyed Princess of the Silver Woods as another foray into the world of Princess of the Midnight Ball. It was good to see familiar faces again and to see how the princesses have grown. The decision to stop with three books, however, proved wise.
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The Very Fairy Princess by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Illustrated by Christine Davenier
Summary: Geraldine knows she is a very fairy princess, even if no one else does. This is the story of how a proper fairy princess spends her day.
Art: This book is pink, glittery, and bright, perfect for any reader who enjoys a bit of glamour. The pencil illustrations are open and colorful, with streaks of red, blue, and green visible even in Geraldine’s blonde hair.
Review: The Very Fairy Princess is something of a typical princess book, simply detailing how Geraldine acts like royalty and adds a bit of magic to the every day. The story follows Geraldine from waking up and eating breakfast, through school, then to bedtime. At each activity, she explains how she glamorizes her life with a tiara or wings, but she also manages to incorporate things like scabby news and sneakers, explaining they are necessary for fairies just learning to fly. Importantly, Geraldine realizes true princesses are supportive, responsible, and creative; it is not all about the glitter and the clothes. Geraldine’s imagination and even her message may not be original in picture books, but they are still a lot of fun.
Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford
Summary: Ali is a young boy living in Baghdad during the war. He loves to play soccer, but he also finds peace through practicing his calligraphy.
Art: The artwork beautifully evokes Iraqi culture, employing rich, warm colors and plenty of geometric designs woven into the background and occasionally characters’ clothing. Calligraphy is also prominently featured throughout.
Review: Although the book has a few non sequiturs, changing abruptly from discussing Ali’s love of soccer to his love of calligraphy, the story is beautiful, demonstrating how Ali uses calligraphy and his dedication in practicing it to find a bit of good in his war-torn world. Ali also compares himself to the famous calligraphy Yakut, who similarly found escape in beautiful writing. The book has no plot ending, instead leading abruptly to a detailed author’s note about calligraphy, but this is excusable in the sense that Ali is still experiencing a war without an ending.
Someday by Eileen Spinelli, Illustrated by Rosie Winstead
Summary: A little girl dreams of all the things she will experience and accomplish someday.
Art: The illustrations are very bright, open, and appealing. With a medium level of detail, they depict a wide-eyed and dreamy girl who is accompanied by a cat on every page. Readers can will have fun looking for the cat, watching the girl’s changing hairstyle, and seeing all her dreams come to life.
Review: Someday is an optimistic read written in a parallel structure that always compares what the little girl will do someday (usually something extraordinary) to what she is doing today (sometimes something fun, but occasionally something a little unpleasant). The story ends with a slight twist, sharing the unique experience the girl is having “right now.” The story is fun, depicting a wide variety of things that the girl might achieve one day, ranging from competing as an Olympic gymnast to dining at the White House, and can be used to start a discussion with young readers about what they would like to do someday and how they can begin preparing right now.
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: The Stubborn Princess
Source: Goodreads First Reads
Summary: A princess with curly hair down to her feet decides one day that she no longer wants to endure the constant tugging and pulling that comes with the upkeep of her long mane. Her appearance quickly deteriorates so that a group of birds mistakes her hair for a nest and flies the girl far away. The princess learns about the price of stubbornness on her journey back home.
Review: The title of this book suggests that the author wishes to teach a moral about the cost of stubbornness, but the premise of the story does little to aid her cause. Anyone with curly hair or hair that reaches their feet will sympathize with the princess, who presumably endures hours of combing and brushing just to keep herself looking presentable. Her desire to avoid unnecessary pain and waste less time on her appearance is completely understandable, and the royal Combers and Brushers could have saved everyone a lot of trouble merely by suggesting a haircut. If the princess is wrong, it is not because she does not want her hair brushed but because she threw a temper tantrum over the fact.
If readers can overlook the illogical premise on which the plot rests, the rest of the story can prove mildly enjoyable. There are hints of interesting creatures and places in the magical kingdom in which the princess lives, and only the length limitations on the book prevent the author from exploring many of these concepts more in-depth. The pictures, too, add a humorous touch to the story, especially the depictions of the increasing horror of the princess’s tangled hair.
Unfortunately, the author chose to write the story in rhyming couplets, and her skill sometimes falters. A few instances of imperfect rhyme such as the coupling of “size” and “sky” prove distracting, as do some lines where the meter breaks down. Often lines seem inserted solely for the sake of maintaining the rhyme scheme.
Children, the audience for whom this book is intended, will likely overlook the few flaws the book possesses, however. The quirky charm of the story as well as its strong-willed heroine stand a good chance of engaging them, and the rhyming scheme will help them to follow the story and anticipate future events. The comedic pictures add the finishing touch to what is essentially a light and fun story.
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.
Goodreads: The False Princess
Summary: Upon the birth of the new princess, the Oracle prophesied that the girl might die before her sixteenth birthday. To prevent that fate, her parents smuggled the child out of the palace and replaced her with another. Sinda never knew that she was not really the heir to the throne until the day when the danger of the prophecy’s fulfillment passed—and she was thrown out of court. She struggles to accept her new life and to find meaning in the years she spent as the false princess. Most seem to have forgotten her and her unwitting sacrifice to stand in to be killed for another. When danger threatens the kingdom, however, Sinda may prove that she is still a force to be reckoned with.
Review: O’Neal’s book is crammed with intrigue, adventure, and mystery. The action seldom flags from the first page and readers will find themselves swept up into the story as they struggle with Sinda to understand the cruelty of the monarchs and the purpose of her life. Sinda’s voice helps immerse the readers. Though raised as a princess, she sounds like an ordinary girl unwillingly thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Readers will relate to her anger, fear, and confusion as she navigates her new circumstance, and they will cheer her on even when she makes mistakes.
Vivid characters bring the story to life. From Sinda’s prankster friend Kiernan to her eccentric tutor Philantha, the pages are populated with interesting personalities who are always so much more than they first appear. Even characters with whom readers do not get to spend a lot of time show three-dimensionality. The monarchs, for example, seem kind, but readers must also reflect that they chose to substitute an innocent child for their own in expectations that that child might be assassinated. Their unthinking treatment of those in lower social classes becomes more and more apparent to Sinda as she travels the realm and meets its people for the first time.
Though Sinda can find plenty of information with which to accuse the ruling class, she herself remains far from perfect. Another character charges her at one point of accepting her fate too willingly. Sinda takes that criticism as license to do from that point as she pleases. In an attempt to prove that she is more than a castaway princess, she alienates her friends, keeps secrets from those who love her, refuses to listen to good advice, and ultimately gets to a point where she takes away the free will of another—all because she has to have things her own way.
The book never addresses the moral implications of these choices. A few unfortunate consequences result, but nothing as bad as readers might have expected. Furthermore, Sinda only feels a little guilty for her actions. She never really acknowledges to herself that what she did was terribly, terribly wrong. She is only worried that she might have injured someone’s feelings or perhaps placed them in danger. Realistically, her decisions should have had greater impact and she should have been forced to recognize the grave responsibility she has for her actions.
Fortunately, Sinda does have her redeeming moments. She knows at least that she has to move on from her old life and from the bitterness she feels toward the king and queen. Her feelings were always understandable, even when they led her to do silly things, but her decision to start anew gives the book a nice sense of closure. And, of course, the fact that the readers even care so much about what Sinda does is testimony how sympathetic and likable a character she really is.
O’Neal expertly balances action and emotion in this gripping read. Romance, mystery, and danger all combine to form story perfect for those who want to lose themselves in a magical world.
Goodreads: Tuesdays at the Castle
Summary: Princess Celie loves living in Castle Glower, where the rooms change every Tuesday and visitors can find themselves lost as the floor plans rearrange. Even so, she desires desperately to leave for a trip with her parents and feels no small anger when they refuse. When outsiders threaten to take over the kingdom, however, Celie’s presence proves invaluable, for only her knowledge of the castle can keep the crown from enemy hands.
Review: George’s foray into middle grade fiction proves a delightful and entertaining romp through a fantastical world seemingly governed by nothing more than the quirks of a magical castle. The premise itself—that a castle can live, think, and act on its own, having fun at the expense of its inhabitants and taking vengeance on those it dislikes by locking them in their rooms or giving them nothing more than a bare cell in which to live—strikes readers as startlingly new and daring. The story itself seems almost aware of its novelty, exulting in plot twists that would normally seem too ridiculous to bear and increasingly challenging readers to suspend their disbelief. In the end, the audience must cave; the exuberance in the absurd is too contagious.
Upon reflection, however, readers many conclude that what they first saw as silly actions on the part of the protagonists—eleven-year-old Celie and her slightly older brother and sister—may actually be realistic steps for them to take, considering their ages. Too often middle grade and even young adult books portray their characters as having almost unbelievable knowledge and skills. Thus, one immediately expects the royal children, who realize their kingdom is under attack, to take logical actions such as sending out emissaries for aid and rallying an army. Instead, they content themselves with taunting their enemies and playing practical jokes.
This, of course, seems preposterous. What army, the readers ask themselves, ever retreated because of some inconvenient jokes? Surely Celie and her siblings can do better. But, then again, what eleven-year-old immediately thinks of going to war? (And, if she did, who would follow her?) Maybe war is too easy an answer, maybe too much of an adult answer.
The only lingering question about questionable actions, then, remains centered on the adults of the story. George, of course, conveniently disposes of them so that the plot can focus on the children and they can act unhindered by parental concern for their safety. In the end, however, the contrivance seems too forced and thus unbelievable. A kingdom at stake and only three children to guard it? Maybe the throne should pass into other hands.
The great triumph of the story, however, does not lie with any of the human characters, but with the castle itself. Readers will come to love Castle Glower with all its whims and fancies as much as Celie does. The building truly seems to live, guarding those it loves and providing them with all that they need. Many more stories are clearly waiting to spring from this unique premise and readers will joyfully go along for the ride.
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Goodreads: A True Princess
Summary: Twelve-year-old Lilia runs away from home in order to discover her birth family, but finds she cannot outrun her foster sister and brother, Karina and Kai. Together the three set out on a dangerous journey to the north, the place from which they believe Lilian came. On the way, however, Kai falls under the spell of the Elf King’s daughter. His sisters can save him only if they recover a magical jewel hidden away in a castle. Unfortunately, another mystery awaits them there—the secret of the test that will determine a true princess and the bride to the kingdom’s heir. A retelling of “The Princess and the Pea.”
Review: Zahler’s story tends toward the predictable, but that in no way ruins her tale. The book has the air of being an original fairy tale with its familiar characters, familiar actions, familiar endings—everything the reader could possibly want. It makes the story feel comfortable. Best of all, it makes the story feel true—good triumphs, evil defeats itself, and happily-ever-after does sometimes occur. The book just makes you want to curl up with it so you can lose yourself to an enchanted world.
The story works so well in part due to its characters. They are, in short, likable. Although her foster mother does not think well of Lilia, the girl proves brave, resourceful, and caring. She is also human, however, with an unfortunate sense of curiosity and a tendency to speak before thinking. Her sister Karina, meanwhile, illustrates that a girl does not have to choose between femininity and strength. She acts rather like a mother figure to Lilia, exercising prudence and restraint, but also shows her girlish side. Kai completes the trio with his sense of responsibility for his sisters and his gentle heart.
The entire book resonates with the theme that having a good heart and being a good person comprise the ingredients truly necessary to make someone royal—not birth or breeding or even the ability to paint miniatures. The chapter titles humorously hint at this message as each one dictates a “rule” girls must follow to prove themselves princesses. Readers, however, instinctively recognize that all three protagonists have shown themselves worthy to be royalty even as they contradict each instruction. The subtle irony prevents from the message from seeing preachy even if it is overt.
Anyone who enjoys a retold fairy tale, even a simple one, should give A True Princess a chance. In it, Zahler creates a delightful world populated with pleasant characters and invites her readers to remember that convoluted stories are not necessarily better stories.
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Goodreads: Dragon’s Breath
Series: Tales of the Frog Princess #2
Summary: Long ago, Princess Emma’s aunt Grassina fell in love with a man her mother did not think good enough for her. She turned him into an animal and Grassina thought him lost forever. However, through a strange turn of events, Grassina’s true love was found. Emma wants to help her aunt transform her lover back into a man, but, to do so, she will need to go on a quest to collect four impossible ingredients.
Review: Baker continues the Frog Princess series with her signature wit and charm. Though Emma and her friends face impossible odds and find themselves in many dangerous situations, they never lose their sense of humor as they encounter the unexpected. This makes the book suitable for younger readers, who may find themselves terrified by the monsters, but will soon be laughing as those same horrors engage in distinctly un-terrifying dialogue and actions. From the ludicrousness of a typical family spat occurring between a sea witch and her daughter to the thought of dragons competing in the Olympics, Baker keeps readers amused with the audacity needed to take familiar fairy-tale elements and mix them with modern ones. Some of the adventures occur a bit too quickly and sometimes too easily, but Dragon’s Breath succeeds overall in providing a pleasant and amusing tale.
Goodreads: Princess Nevermore
Series: Princess Nevermore #1
Summary: Princess Quinn loves to visit the magician of Mandria where she can sit under the wishing pool and listen to the secret longings of the people in the world above. Her kingdom, though full of enchantments and magical creatures, exists underground, so she has never seen the trees or the sun, or felt the wind or the rain on her face. Her friend Cam, the magician’s apprentice, promised he would take her to over-world one day, but, when his spell goes awry, the princess finds herself alone in unfamiliar land. Navigating the streets and learning about the strange magic of technology, however, will prove infinitely easier than navigating the perils of the heart. Torn between her love for a boy from above and her love for her home, Princess Quinn will have to decide in which world she will belong—or soon, the choice will be taken from her altogether. Followed by Cam’s Quest.
Review: Princess Nevermore follows a predictable path with predictable characters. The gruff old magician, his clumsy apprentice, the princess rebelling against her future, the handsome romantic interest, and the bullying jock all make an appearance and all play their expected roles. The interest of the story, however, lies not in what it achieves, but in the manner in which the story achieves it. Princess Nevermore contains an unexpected poignancy resulting from Quinn’s need to choose which world she wishes to live in and how much she is willing to sacrifice to make that choice.
Quinn’s impetuous act in visiting the land above brings pain and heartache to nearly everyone she knows, meaning that her final decision will have consequences not only for herself, but also for those around her. Quinn tends to focus on her own needs and desires, thereby taking it upon herself to decide how much others will suffer for her, but readers will not judge her too harshly. At heart, the princess is only a fifteen-year-old girl longing for the ability to forge her own destiny and achieve her own happily-ever-after. She sees an opportunity to find true love and she understandably reaches for it, preferring to suffer with another rather than face a more comfortable future alone. The story ultimately centers around not the trappings of a typical fantasy, but the humanity of the characters.
As a natural extension of that humanity, wonder and the joy of seeing the world afresh fill the book. Although supposedly entering a world magic has departed, Quinn finds enchantment all around her, from the ability to heat a meal in seconds to the thrill of hearing a voice from far away on the phone. She likewise finds magic in nature, from the sun to the rain. Quinn can understand the wonder of everyday life precisely because she has never experienced it. Through her, however, readers can rediscover that wonder and marvel once again at the beauty of the sky or the impossibility of technology.
Princess Nevermore will provide much pleasure to those readers who do not mind a fantasy that unabashedly utilizes the typical elements of the genre while infusing those elements with heart. It sometimes proves immensely comforting to know the way a story means to go, and Princess Nevermore meets expectations by providing the danger, romance, and emotion readers want; the only element missing is greater closure. Fortunately, those who want more of Quinn and the rest can turn to the sequel, Cam’s Quest.