Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Information

Goodreads:  Ogre Enchanted
Series: Ella Enchanted #0.5
Source: Library
Published: 2018

Summary

Evie enjoys working on her healing remedies along with her best friend Wormy.  But then Wormy has to ruin everything by proposing.  Even worse, the fairy Lucinda does not agree with Evie that she is too young to think of marrying anyone.  As punishment for rejecting Wormy, Lucinda transforms Evie into an ogre.  Now, she only has a few weeks to accept a proposal–or she will be an ogre forever.  A prequel to Ella Enchanted that can be read as a standalone.

Star Divider

Review

A prequel to Ella Enchanted?!  Gail Carson Levine’s work has been a bit uneven over the years, but I was still excited to learn that we would be returning to some familiar places and characters.  Perhaps she could recapture some of the magic!  So I put Ogre Enchanted on hold even before it hit the library shelves and impatiently waited for tech services to process it.  I am happy to report that the book lived up to expectations.

My experience of the book, however, is likely to be very different from many readers.   Ogre Enchanted is never going to be Ella Enchanted and readers who feel strongly about Ella Enchanted may perhaps find themselves disappointed as a result. I allowed this book to stand on its own and judged it simply as a fun fantasy featuring a spunky heroine and a good dose of humor.  Additionally, I was not expecting true greatness, but went into the book simply feeling hopefully expectant.  In some ways, I think that Levine has never really matched Ella Enchanted or The Two Princesses of Bamarre in her subsequent  books, so I was really just hoping for a solid story here, not a re-creation of Ella.  Perhaps as a result of my modified expectations, I felt satisfied.

Readers who adore Ella Enchanted, however, will find much to love here.  Though the book’s opening does give the possibility that Evie will simply reject the traditional formula for fairy tales, she actually does end up searching very enthusiastically for someone to propose to her, once it becomes clear she needs to do this or remain an ogre forever.  The story is thus a gender-reversed retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” with Evie starring as the hideous monster who must find someone to love her despite her appearance.  Though I think it would have been interesting to see Evie find a way to outwit the curse without suddenly seeming to change her mind about love and proposals, I can appreciate that Levine seems to want to explore a different avenue here.  The story is really about Evie discovering what she wants in life and learning how to distinguish between flattery and flirting and real love.

Fans of Gail Carson Levine and Ella Enchanted will, of course, want to pick this one up to rediscover some of the magic.  Fans of fantasy in general, however, will also appreciate Ogre Enchanted for its strong and endearing protagonist and its unique take on a classic fairy tale.

4 stars

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (Review 2)

INFORMATION

Goodreads: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
Series: The Two Princesses of Bamarre 0.5
Source: Gift
Published: May 2, 2017

Summary

Perry has believed her entire life that she is one of the Lakti, a fearless and proud people who value military strength and glory in war.  Then she learns that she is really one of the Bamarre, the people who now serve the Lakti.  A fairy appears to Perry informing her that she must free her people.  But can Perry leave all she has ever known and join a people she has always thought inferior?

Review (with Spoiilers Galore!)

Like Briana, I have always considered The Two Princesses of Bamarre my favorite Gail Carson Levine book.  So I awaited the release of the prequel with great excitement.  However, though I enjoyed the book, I could not help but laugh a little at the story.  It simply makes no sense!

This is a middle-grade, so apparently Levine wants to keep the violence to a minimum even though the Lakti are at war and Perry wants to start a Bamarre revolt.   I do not agree that middle school children cannot handle pain or sadness in their stories–I am sure many experience it in their own lives.  Authors such as N. D. Wilson have written stories that balance the reality of balance with the knowledge that they are writing for children.  However, Levine follows the strategy of Jessica Day George (see Tuesdays in the Castle) by having her revolt start out small, with actions that are more akin to pranks than anything else.  Too much salt in the porridge.  Sewing a dress too tight.  Only in one village, mind you, not even the entire country.  But the protagonists hope that they can get other villages to pull some pranks, too.

In time, these pranks grow more serious.  Some Bamarre begin, for instance, to pull up the crops instead of the weeds (no word on whether that will cause the Bamarre to starve, too).  By the end, houses are being burned.  However, the end goal of all these measures is also a little…unrealistic.  The Bamarre, tired of being enslaved in their own country, wish for permission to go to the country their Lakti overlords left.  Because of the monsters.  No, no Bamarre can fight these.  The enslaved Bamarre are hardly trained to be warriors.  But will that stop them from dreaming of freedom amongst the ogres and dragons?  No.  Does the knowledge that a handful of trained warriors had two deaths in their party and saw just about everyone else wounded in the space of a few hours, when they dared to cross into monster territory give any of the Bamarre pause?  No again.

And why should it, really? They’re being lead by a fifteen-year-old stronger and faster than anyone else.  She can shoot, fight with a sword, do anything you want her to, it would seem.  At one point she even possesses four magical items!  And her sister can chop off an ogre’s head with no training at all!  And her ten-year-old brother is just mowing monsters down!   He has no weapons training, either, unless he got a few weeks’  once he was drafted into the Lakti army.  I suppose if an untrained woman, a teenager, and a child can fight monsters with such ease, the rest of the Bamarre will be fine fighting monsters with no weapons?

The rest of the ending is just as bizarre.  The Lakti lose two monarchs in one day, with only a handful of witnesses, only two of whom who will presumably count as witnesses at all–the new monarch and a knight.  No one questions this, just as no one questions that the new princess ran away from home to live with monsters after being imprisoned for reasons that were never explained.  No one questions the new princess wanting to leave her throne to go back to live with monsters.  Lead by a ten-year-old and a child who is supposed to be king.  (It’s unclear if he’s going to rule or if someone will just declare themselves regent or what.)  In short, the politics are messy and confused, and I think Levine is just hoping middle school children won’t question it.

However, if you are willing to overlook how strange the plot is, the story really is very engrossing.  I read the book in one day, eager to learn how things would turn out and eager to learn more about the past of a country that always enchanted me.  Seeing characters and items mentioned in The Two Princesses of Bamarre was also fun.

In the end, however, I had to wonder why, if this was the story of Perry (and a little bit of her sister), the book ends with a celebratory poem in honor of Drualt.  It feels like the women are already being written out of history.  With a poem they made up themselves!  Drualt may be important to The Two Princesses of Bamarre, but that doesn’t meant that Perry’s fight should be overshadowed by Drualt’s future fame, all for the fun of an allusion.

I enjoyed reading this book a lot.  It’s entertaining and fun and the characters are delightful.  I want to go back to Bamarre again in another story.  But I do have to remember that sometimes middle-grade authors don’t seem overly concerned with the logic of politics!

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

Information

Goodreads: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
Series: The Two Princesses of Bamarre 0.5
Source: Purchased
Published: May 2, 2017

Official Summary

In this compelling and thought-provoking fantasy set in the world of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Newbery Honor-winning author Gail Carson Levine introduces a spirited heroine who must overcome deeply rooted prejudice—including her own—to heal her broken country.

Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Latki—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly.

But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Latki-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny.

Review

Although I have not re-read it in several years, The Two Princesses of Bamarre has always been my favorite Gail Carson Levine book, so I was ecstatic to learn Levine was publishing another book about Bamarre this May.  The slight catch:  This stories takes place many years before The Two Princesses of Bamarre, and the kingdom featured is not quite the one that fans know and love.  In fact, the Bamarre people are subjugated under the Lakti, forced to wear tassels and work only as servants rather than free people, and the beautiful land across the Eskerns is only a dream they have.

This is a book that explores identity and prejudice.  The protagonist is raised as a Lakti and taught to consider the Bamarre beneath her– a people who are weak and unimportant in comparison to the aggressive Lakti.  The story is partially a journey of her coming to realize that was she has been taught may not quite be the truth.  While I was initially tempted to take some issue with the fact the Perry seems able to see the good in the Bamarre only because she is actually Bamarre by birth herself (there’s some nature vs. nurture problem here), some of the other Lakti’s views on the matter also turn out to be complex and changeable, which helped.

The book isn’t bleak, however; there’s plenty of the heart and magic that readers expect from Gail Carson Levine.  There are also a number of allusions to people, objects, etc. that appear in The Two Princesses of Bamarre, though I’m sure I missed some of them due to not having read the book recently.  Expect a fun treasure hunt of allusions if you’re already a Bamarre fan, but don’t worry about recognizing these small nods if you’re not; they’re not crucial to understanding the plot in any way.

I did think the plot lagged in places because Perry has to slow down and do some learning before she can go on to great and exciting things, but overall the book was interesting.  The characters also shine.  Both the Lakti and the Bamarre are complex, and Levine puts great effort into developing and describing their histories and cultures.  No one is one-dimensional in this novel.

I’ve been looking forward to a new Gail Carson Levine book for a while, and this does not disappoint.

4 stars Briana

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

Two Princesses of BamarreInformation

Goodreads: The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Source: Purchased
Published: 2001

Summary

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.

Review

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.

 

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Goodreads: Ella Enchanted

Summary: At birth Ella was cursed by the fairy Lucinda with the gift of obedience.  She has to follow any order given by anybody, even if she receives a command that endangers her or others.  Determined to gain her freedom, Ella sets out on a journey to find Lucinda and beg her to take back her gift.  Rescue, however, may come from a more unexpected quarter.  A Newbery Honor book.

Review: Ella Enchanted stands out among retellings of “Cinderella” both for its original premise and its fully-realized world.  Levine takes the question of why Cinderella would submit to so much abuse from her step-relatives and answers it by suggesting that perhaps she literally had no choice.  From there, the book explores the nature of free will and the gift of choice.  The resulting drama plays out across a richly detailed world peopled with unforgettable characters from the ogres who can seduce their victims to cook themselves to the giants who prove friendlier than readers might expect.  Readers will find themselves, like Ella, enchanted.

Much of the book’s charm stems from Levine’s quirky and wry sense of humor.  Though Ella suffers under the rule of her step-relatives and from the neglect of her father, Levine manages to make these characters as funny as they are odious.  Their obsessions with wealth, power, looks, and status set them up as the objects of various jokes, making the subtle point that a person can never gain respect by focusing on these false idols.  Instead, the book celebrates virtues such as love, loyalty, honesty, and generosity, all so naturally that Levine never seems to be moralizing.

With its spirited heroine, intriguing premise, and heart-wrenching emotion, Ella Enchanted proves a timeless tale that bears repeated readings.  It has rightfully taken a place among the classics of children’s literature.

Published: 1997

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Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep by Gail Carson Levine

Goodreads: Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep
Series: The Princess Tales

Summary: Princess Sonora was cursed at her naming ceremony by the fairy Belladonna to prick herself on a spindle and die, but another fairy altered the curse so Sonora and the rest of the castle will sleep for a hundred years.  Generations later, in the kingdom of Greater Kulornia, Prince Christopher has a lot of questions that no one can answer.  Everyone just recites the old proverb “Princess Sonora knows, but don’t ask her.”  Then, one day, a visiting shepherd tells him, “Princess Sonora knows, but don’t ask her…because she’s asleep.”  Christopher sets off to find the legendary Sonora to ask if she can help solve his kingdom’s latest problems.  A retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”

Review: Gail Carson Levine brings humor to another well-loved fairytale by making Sonora a princess blessed at birth with extraordinary intelligence.  From that moment on she does not coo but begins reading treatises on how to improve the everyday workings of the castle.  When she begins to crawl and then walk, she sets daily distance goals and travels in straight lines and perfect circles.  Sonora, however, is not as boring as all her reading and talking encourages everyone to think.  She is witty and often comes to conclusions that are more imaginative than they are scientific.  For example, she knows yeast makes bread rise, but when she wants to know why, she decides it is because bread is supposed to feed people and risen bread will feed more people than flat bread will.

The other characters are equally as wonderful.  Her first would-be suitor is dreadfully dull and enjoys stating the obvious and enjoys listing the gifts he was given by the fairies at birth.  He is Handsome.  He is Tall.  He is a Man of Action.  (He used to be a Baby of Action.)  Prince Christopher is much more delightful and enjoys asking questions, so readers know from the start that he and Sonora ought to be perfect for each other.  But…after a hundred years, Princess Sonora is a bit dusty.  Does Christopher really want to kiss her?

Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep combines elements of the classic tale and creative elements that are all Levine’s own.  Fairytale lovers with a sense of humor and appreciation for the random will very much like this entire series.

Published: 1999

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Cinderellis and the Glass Hill by Gail Carson Levine

Goodreads: Cinderellis and the Glass Hill
Series: The Princess Tales

Summary: Ellis’s older brothers Burt and Ralph are best friends, but are uninterested in him and his inventions.  When King Humphrey IV announces anyone who manages to ride a horse to the top of a glass tower will be allowed to marry Princess Marigold, Burt and Ralph decide to go and watch the fun.  Ellis decides to test his new sticky powder on the glass hill. A retelling of “The Princess on the Glass Hill.”

Review: Cinderellis and the Glass Hill is fairly unique in offering a male protagonist.  Readers will love the clever but lonely Ellis, who only wants his brothers to like him and to invent things that will make the kingdom a better place.  Princess Marigold is equally charming and ingenious, and is also lonely because her father is always riding off on ridiculous quests for magical souvenirs.  The strength of this book lies strongly on the characters, including a cat name Apricot and some beautiful horses.  This will definitely be a favorite among animal lovers.  It also includes all the imagination and wit found in the previous Princess Tales and is overall a delightful read.

Published: 2000

The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine

Goodreads: The Princess Test
Series: The Princess Tales

Summary: Lorelei is a blacksmith’s daughter who seems to be allergic to and sensitive to everything; mostly she is good at embroidery.  Prince Nicholas’s parents want him to marry, and they set up a ridiculous series of tests to find a true princess.  Nicholas thinks no one is likely to pass, and hopes if they do not, he will be allowed to marry Lorelei instead.  But then Lorelei shows up at the castle and is entered into the contests.  Unable to help her in any way, Nicholas prays she will be able to do the impossible: feel a pea under twenty feather mattresses.  A retelling of “The Princess and the Pea.”

Review: Levine’s story is delightfully fun, and as close to a “real” fairytale as retellings are likely to get.  All the stories in The Princess Tales story are short (able to be read in half an hour) and function on the same bases as the originals.  There is love at first sight, the good characters are generally pretty if not stunningly gorgeous, and it is perfectly obvious how everything will end.  In short, they are wonderful.

The Princess Test is a witty retelling of “The Princess and the Pea.”  King Humphrey is very fond of synonyms and enjoys stringing them together. Lorelei embroiders her family’s clothing with footstools instead of flowers.  And there is not just the pea test for the princesses to pass, but a series of similar ones that are equally absurd.  How many princesses will find a single stitch missing from a tapestry and from how far away?

In the end, Lorelei does demonstrate that she has compassion and will be a loving, not just a finicky queen.  This is a nice touch that helps the reader cheer for Lorelei for more than the simple reason that Nicholas wants her to win, and it is a good lesson for children that a good character is one of the most important qualities a ruler should have.

Published: 1999

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine (First Review)

Note: See Briana’s review of the book below!

Summary: Twelve-year-old Elodie leaves her home to apprentice herself to a mansioner, or actor, in the city of Two Castles, but instead finds herself the assistant to a detective dragon named Meenore.  When an ogre commissions them to find his lost dog, Meenore suspects the case involves more than a missing pet and that someone intends to harm their new client.  Elodie must enter the ogre’s castle to keep him safe, but she does not know whom she can trust.  Inspired by “Puss in Boots.”

Review: Levine proves herself once again a master storyteller.  A Tale of Two Cities takes the reader to an enchanting world where ogres and dragons exist side-by-side with humans and adventure waits around every corner, just waiting for someone to take the opportunity to grab it.  Readers will feel as if they hear, taste, see, and smell everything around them as they explore with Elodie and take in this new place, so fully realized by Levine.  If the plot itself did not exist, the audience would probably still feel compelled to continue reading, to live in this magical world just for awhile. Continue reading