A True Princess by Diane Zahler

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.

Published: 2011

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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