Goodreads: The Two Princesses of Bamarre
As a child, Princess Meryl always dreamed of going on the quest that would find the cure for the Grey Death—a ruthless disease that strikes arbitrarily and always kills. Princess Addie, afraid even of spiders, hoped her sister would remain safe at home. When Meryl contracts the Grey Death, however, Addie sets out alone, facing specters, griffins, and even dragons in the attempt to save her sister.
The Two Princesses of Bamarre introduces readers to a magical world full of specters, fairies, wizards, and dragons. It is a world full of adventures waiting to happen–but Princess Addie knows that adventures often contain pain and sorrow. Her instinctive understanding of the cost that quests can take imparts to the book a subtle richness and depth not often found in middle grade fantasy.
Princess Addie herself, however, does not understand her own wisdom; her aversion to adventures comes from fear and she knows from books that fear is not a positive quality. Thus, though her viewpoint tempers the exuberant desire to fight monsters that drives her (perhaps somewhat naive) sister Meryl, Addie spends a lot of her time not only fretting about the harm that could come to a questing Meryl but also about how others will respond to her own cowardice. Even so, I think many readers will respond to her concerns–wouldn’t a lot of us prefer to stay at home rather than take our chances fighting a dragon single-handedly? Especially without training?
Addie, however, has no one like herself in literature to whom she can look up. The national poem features the brave hero Drualt, who helped found Bamarre by driving out the monsters and who did so by laughing (literally) in the face of danger. This poem serves to ground the book in a deep sense of history, making Bamarre come alive. It also serves, however, to inspire and encourage Addie, who attempts to channel Drualt while on her own adventures.
Fortunately, Addie never allows Drualt’s personality to submerge her own. He is a larger-than-life figure who wins battles through his physical strength (though also with a little cunning) and whose personality never admits the possibility of sorrow or of defeat. Addie, in contrast, cannot wield a sword. She cannot laugh in the face of her foe. And she has the common sense to recognize this. She allows Drualt’s example to encourage to persevere through adversity, but she does so in her own way–with wit, with understanding, and with compassion. Their approaches are unique and complementary, and Addie succeeds because she is willing to work with what she has, even if she sometimes thinks it is not enough. Her story is inspiring precisely because she seems so ordinary when compared with the types of people who are “supposed” to have adventures.
Addie’s many triumphs are, however, tempered by her own setbacks and sorrows that impart to the story a certain poignancy. Addie, in the end, would have wished very much to have been proven wrong, to have had the type of glorious adventure envisioned by her sister. But Gail Carson Levine knows that is not the way of things and she does not let her readers off the hook emotionally. The Two Princesses of Bamarre triumphs because it mixes the worldviews of the sisters, offering gladness and sorrow, victory and defeat, all in one big muddle that delights even while it hurts.