Goodreads: The Princess in Black
Series: The Princess in Black #1
Illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Princess Magnolia’s kingdom contains an entrance to Monster Land, but that’s nothing she can’t handle as the secret superhero the Princess in Black. When Duchess Wigtower comes to call and the monster alarm goes off, however, Magnolia has a dilemma. Can she transform into the Princess in Black, defeat the monster, and return for the last of the scones all before the nosy duchess discovers her secret?
The premise of The Princess in Black seems to guarantee the success of the series, regardless of the merits of the book. After all, it cannily combines many a reader’s love of princesses and superheroes to create a story that celebrates not only the varied interests of little girls (that being, I assume, the target audience though Shannon Hale’s fame will ensure the book is is picked up by all sorts of readers) but also the multifacetedness of those girls. No longer do they have to choose between pink and black, between tea parties and monster fights. They can have it all. The story could probably be terrible and people would still read it for the sheer joy of finally having a princess after their own hearts.
Unfortunately,after reading The Princess in Black, I found it necessary to console myself with the fact that, yes, at least the book features a pretty cool heroine. The story itself is, if not cliche, at least highly expected. A nosy neighbor of sorts visits the castle for the sole purpose of creating a little dramatic tension while Marigold goes off to battle a monster and then returns. Such a standard plot could have been saved by interesting characters, but they unfortunately have no personalities, instead existing only to fulfill the needs of the plot. Aside from the meddling duchess, the only other character (excepting the dim-witted monster, who may be the most sympathetic of them all) is a goat boy who literally appears just so the Princess in Black can have an admiring audience. Yes the story promises him more prominence in the sequel, but in this book I almost feel sorry that he was required to show up, it being such a waste of his time. He clearly has potential and there was almost enough for me to like him, but the story stopped just short of fully fleshing him out in a cheap bid to create suspense for the next installment.
The motivating forces behind this particular story are furthermore lacking, so that I found it difficult to invest myself in the plot. The idea is that Duchess Wigtower visits Princess Magnolia with the sole purpose of discovering her secret, not because she has anything on Magnolia but because “everyone has secrets”. That’s a little far-fetched, but it’s an early chapter book and I guess we only have so much space, so it’s better just to create a clear antagonist upfront. So far so good. But then the Duchess goes on and on about how “perfect” Princess Magnolia is and how there must be something not perfect about her. Yes, yes there is. It’s the fact that she literally runs out the door during a formal call with an obviously fake excuse about having to check on the health of the birds outside because the two of them heard a ringing noise. There you go, Duchess. If the Princess isn’t rude, she’s apparently not too bright (surely she’s had to explain her ringing jewelry before?) or simply crazy. There is no need to spend the rest of the book trying to dig up dirt on her. She proved her human nature in the first few pages.
The illustrations are the saving factor in this book. Although the text tries to be funny or sometimes ironic, most of the time I thought the attempts fell flat. The pictures, however, really bring life to the text, conveying humor and wit through the postures and expressions of the characters. The illustrations are charming, beautiful, vivid. I went through the book again after having finished it, solely so I could enjoy the story without the words and only through the pictures.
Despite my perhaps too-harsh criticisms (I recognize that most readers of early chapter books are not likely to dissect the text as I have), I most likely will continue on with the series. After all, I love princesses and I love superheroes. Where else am I going to get both of them in the same place but from the Princess in Black?