Melisande by E. Nesbit

Melisande Book Cover


Goodreads: Melisande
Series: None
Age Category: Children’s
Source: Library
Published: 1901


At her christening, the princess Melisande is cursed by an evil fairy to be bald forever. Still, Melisande grows up good and loving. Then she is offered a wish and, to please her mother the queen, Melisande wishes for golden hair that grows an inch a day and twice as fast when cut! Now Melisande has a new problem.

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In Melisande, E. Nesbit presents a fairy that still feels fresh and modern. Cursed at her christening by an evil fairy, the princess Melisande later wishes for hair that grows an inch a day and twice as fast when cut. Thus starts a mathematical problem that soon stymies the whole kingdom. How can they keep Melisande comfortable when she has so much hair? And what in the world are they going to do with all that hair once they cut it? Readers will delight in this story that cautions them to be careful of what they wish for.

What I loved about Melisande (aside from the mathematical angle) is that, though it relies on some familiar fairy tropes, it also feels free to play with them. At the start, readers learn that the king and queen specifically do not hold a christening party so no one can be accidentally overlooked, and thus offended. What happens is they offend everyone. This is the start of their dilemma when an insulted fairy curses the baby with baldness.

But the story does more than showcase Nesbit’s familiarity with fairy tales, and her sense of humor in alluding to them. It also presents Melisande as active and admirable. From the start, Melisande is admirable because she is kind, not because she is beautiful or because she is rich. She only wishes for golden hair because her mother desires it. And, once she experiences the fallout from that wish, she still thinks of others, using her hair to help the kingdom and her other mishaps to prevent violence and war. All this is while the Prince Florizel is trying to think of a way to stop her hair from growing so he can win her hand in marriage. She is not just waiting around for him. Melisande is keeping busy.

Lovers of fairy tales will delight in Melisande. It keeps some of the familiar parts of old tales, such as the true love between the prince and the princess, while adding aspects that keep the story feeling contemporary. How Florizel solves the riddle of Melisande’s hair will keep readers guessing. But it might well be Melisande who wins readers hearts over with her kindness.

4 stars

The Princess Rules by Philippa Gregory

The Princess Rules by Philippa Gregory


Goodreads: The Princess Rules
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1988, 1991, 1992 (collected in one volume 2020)

Official Summary

Princess Florizella may live in a classic fairy-tale world, but she’s no ordinary princess…

These three stories were originally published under the titles Princess Florizella, Princess Florizella and the Wolves and Princess Florizella and the Giant.

They were originally dedicated to her daughter but have been reimagined in this edition which she has dedicated to her grandchildren.

“Princess Florizella was friends with some of the princesses who had studied the Princess Rules, and behaved just as the Rules said they should. Florizella thought their hair was lovely: so golden and so very long. And their clothes were nice: so richly embroidered. And their shoes were delightful: so tiny and handmade in silk. But their days bored her to death…”

Instead, Princess Florizella rides her horse, Jellybean, all over the kingdom, having adventures of her own…

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Philippa Gregory presents three feminist princess stories in this new volume collecting three previously published works: Princess Florizella, Princess Florizella and the Wolves, and Princess Florizella and the Giant. Each story is unconnected, but follows the adventures of Princess Florizella, who happily breaks all the Princess Rules to make friends, have adventures, and even save the kingdom. Fans of works such as The Paper Bag Princess or The Princess in Black will find another unquenchable heroine in Princess Florizella.

Princess Florizella introduces the titular heroine, who refreshingly decides to do what she enjoys, rather than following the dictates of society. While all her princess friends spend their days primping, napping, and barely eating, Florizella speaks her mind, rides on her horse Jellybean, and eats whatever she wants. When her parents ask her to go to a ball where a prince will choose his bride, Florizella goes, not to contend for his hand, but to have fun with her friends. There might be a message in about having others appreciate you for being yourself, but, really, I think the story is just meant to be in good fun, and to give some ironic digs to classic fairy tales.

Princess Florizella and the Wolves is arguably the weakest of the three stories. In this one, Florizella finds some wild wolf cubs and decides to raise them in secret in her room. The resulting chaos leads her parents to believe that she is under a curse and needs to be rescued by a prince. Florizella again defies gender roles and refuses to be rescued, but it is a little hard to root for her in this story because, well, she has a pack of wild wolves under her bed and that is just not going to work out for anyone. Maybe some children will find it funny, though.

Princess Florizella and the Giant expands the world a little as Florizella sets out to rescue a town from a giant. The giant, of course, turns out to be rather misunderstood and just in need of friendship. Again, one could read some sort of moral into this about not judging others by appearances and always trying to be kind, but the stories are so silly that attempting to make them into a life lesson just feels wrong. If parents really want these stories to teach something, however, they at least get to point at Florizella as a confident girl who does not feel the need to do anything just because everyone else is.

Altogether, this is a pretty fun collection that is a great choice for readers transitioning into chapter books. The stories are witty and Florizella’s feminist flair will appeal to modern readers who enjoy fantasy and fairy tale worlds, but who want their heroines fierce.

4 stars

The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski

The Runaway Princess Comic


Goodreads: The Runaway Princess
Source: Library
Published: January 21, 2020


Princess Robin can never seem to stay at home. Sometimes she is off on an adventure, and sometimes adventure just happens to find her. Journey with Robin through her kingdom and beyond as she meets mermaids, battles pirates, and crosses wits with witches.

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Johan Troïanowski’s The Runaway Princess is a delightful and whimsical adventure. It is not, as the title might suggest, the story of a royal tomboy who leaves home to find independence and meaning in life in things other than gowns. No, it is not that type of story. Rather, it is a story based in the wonder young Princess Robin finds in the world all around her. From exploring distant lands to discovering magic in the world below, Robin takes readers along with her on a journey full of the unexpected–and many unexpected friends.

I love whimsical fantasies, so The Runaway Princess enchanted me directly with its adventurous protagonist, its marvelous landscapes, and its somewhat quirky art style. Robin and her friends carry the story completely, responding to the world around them with openness and warmth. Readers never know quite is going to happen, but they do know that Robin’s heart will always see the heroes through. That type of feel-good story is necessary, sometimes.

Because the story works so well, I do think that the occasional authorial interventions, in which readers are asked to participate in the story and so help Robin and her friends find their way home, are not at all needed. They occur sporadically, but mostly end up feeling random. The sense of immersion is complete without them and so they strike one at times as unnecessarily gimmicky. Perhaps others will like these moments, but I found them a distraction.

On the whole, however, The Runaway Princess is a delightful fantasy adventure perfect for those searching for a quick and happy read. The danger is never too dangerous, the drama never overwhelming. These are the types of adventures that happen and then end just in time for tea. And that is just what I found I wanted.

4 stars

I’m No Longer Interested in Reading about Princesses (and I Hope It’s Temporary)

Princess Books

I’ve only read a few YA books with princess protagonists in the past couple months (Dark Breaks the Dawn and Ash Princess come to mind), but I’ve noticed a troubling personal reaction: I didn’t like them.  This came as a genuine surprise to me because, if asked, I probably would have said I loved princess books. I enjoyed reading them as a child, and I like all the things that come with princess stories—power, opulence, the chance for a character to have a real impact because they’re going to rule a country.  But reading princess books recently (particularly YA, as opposed to MG), I found myself frustrated and bored.

On one level, maybe a princess protagonist is too “obvious.”  Maybe in my mind I’m thinking that it’s just too convenient or too overdone that the author chose this character for the focus of a book, and that things would be a lot more interesting if they focused on someone else.  (The Rebel of the Sands books, for instance, work really well by featuring a protagonist who is supporting a prince leading a rebellion, rather than on the prince himself.)  Of course princesses have power, so maybe what I really want to hear about is the chief political advisor, or the general, or the woman who milks the royal cows!

However, I think I’m also pushing back against the idea that royalty have inherent powers that other people don’t.  In princess books, the royal family seem to be in power not because of politics or a rebellion or just a weird accident of fate; they’re in power because they hold [insert some wildly powerful magical ability the poor plebeians can never have], and that irritates me.

Perhaps my societal conditioning has me grating against this idea. Americans don’t like nobility, right? And there’s probably something to be said about millennial attitudes here.  Maybe it smacks too much of “divine right of kings,” implying that these people inherently should rule because their bloodline, in fact, does make them inherently better than other people.

However, I think my real problem is that I’m not convinced that this idea actually makes sense.  I like magic systems in books where magic is genetic but widely spread throughout the kingdom’s people, and I like magic systems where one can learn magic or acquire it through an external source. But the idea that only the royal family has magic (or a particularly powerful manifestation of the book’s form of magic) is weird to me.  If it’s genetic within the royal family, there should be someone besides the current rulers and their direct heirs who have it.  Cousins? Bastard children in the country? Someone?

Whatever my issue is, I hope I can resolve it soon, or otherwise find a YA book that does a princess character really well. Leave me your recommendations in the comments!


15 Books Featuring a Princess in Disguise

The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson

When Evangeline, cousin and ward of Richard II, is betrothed to a man twice her age, she flees the castle and disguises herself as a servant.  To protect her identity further, she pretends to be mute.  But then she falls in love.  Can she find a way to make anyone trust her again after all her lies?

The Imposter Queen by Sarah Fine

Sixteen-year-old Elli was raised to be heir to the queen who wields magic to protect the kingdom.  But then the queen dies and Elli receives no magic.  Now on the run, Elli has to decide where her true loyalties lie.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Princess Anidori-Kiladra of Kildenree had every reason to expect she would one day rule as queen of her country. Instead, her mother offers her as a bride to the prince of Bayern.  During the trip to Bayern, however, half of Ani’s guards rebel, setting up her maid Selia as princess of Kildenree. Ani flees for her life, ultimately finding work as a goose girl for the palace of her betrothed. To unmask Selia and claim her rightful identity, however, Ani will have to learn to trust her co-workers, as well as her own abilities.

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

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 Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Thirteen-year-old Princess Matilda is not beloved by her people.  Her deformity makes them curse her and then, even worse, her lands are stolen by a usurper.  Soon Tilda is on the run with a couple of dragon slayers.  And she finds hidden depths she did not know she had.

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye

Princess Amy was gifted with Ordinariness at birth.  Still, her parents plan to marry her off, so she runs away and gets a job as a kitchen maid at another palace.  There she unexpectedly meets a prince who might just find her not so ordinary after all.

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

Ten years ago, Wilhemina Korte, princess of Aecor, watched her parents die at the hands of the Indigo Kingdom.  She and the other noble children were taken to the capital of their conquerors.  But they escaped and now they live as spies, determined to do whatever it takes to return home.  Even if they do, however, the wraith, a toxic mist born of magic, is slowly wiping entire lands off the map.  Wil wants to become queen.  But can she protect her people from the Indigo Kingdom and the wraith?

The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal

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. When danger threatens the kingdom, however, Sinda may prove that she is still a force to be reckoned with.

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

On the morning of her wedding, Princess Lia runs away and hides.  But two men are on her trail.  One is the man she was meant to marry.  Another means to kill her.

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare

Enraged that his daughter Imogene has married without his consent, the king sends her husband into exile.  Meanwhile, a wicked man convinces Imogene’s husband that the princess has been unfaithful and must be killed.  Now on the run disguised as a page, Imogene has a chance to save her kingdom from war–but she might lose her husband in the process.

Pericles by William Shakespeare

Left in the care of a foster family, Marina, daughter to Pericles, Prince of Tyre, is sold off to work in a brothel.  But her virtue protects her–and ends up converting many of the clients!  The brothel owners are none too happy, but Marina continues to have good fortune–and even a chance at finding her family again.

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

King Leontes believes his faithful wife Hermione has cheated on him.  As punishment, he puts his wife on trial and banishes their newborn daughter to be eaten by wild beasts.  But sixteen years later, a miracle might just give Leontes a second chance.

The Spy Princess by Sherwood Smith

When the Lady Lilah sneaks out from behind her family’s walls, she is surprised to find the common people unhappy–and planning a revolution!  She wants to help, but what can she do?  She’s just a kid!

Midnight Pearl by Debbie Viguié

In this retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” a baby girl washes ashore and is raised by a fisherman and his wife.  Seventeen years later, she believes she is falling in love with Prince James.  But then a long-lost secret rises to tear them apart.

The Diamond Secret by Suzanne Weyn

Suzanne Weyn puts a spin on the fairy tale retelling by choosing to retell the story of the lost duchess Anastasia.  This book is reminiscent of the animated film so may not strike readers as original, but may appeal to them with nostalgia.

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas


Goodreads: Dragon’s Green
Series: Worldquake Series #1
Source: Library
Published: 2017


Effie Truelove is not sure magic really exists until her grandfather ends up in the hospital.  Then, suddenly, he is bequeathing his library to her as well as an assortment of magical objects.  But her father sells the books to a man Effie is not sure she can trust.  And thus she finds herself on an adventure to reclaim her inheritance and the truth about her birthright.


Dragon’s Green is a fast-paced and exciting adventure story that feels wholly original in the realm of middle-grade fantasy.  It seems based on role-playing games, requiring the protagonist Effie to collect magical items (called boons) and bequeath them to her allies, who all possess different innate abilities and thus different titles (scholar, mage, healer, etc.).  Together, they form a team that  can defeat an evil book-destroying mage.

A lot of intriguing elements come together in the story to heighten the mystery and keep readers intrigued. The story begins with Effie’s grandfather dying under strange circumstances and leaving her only vague hints about what to do with the magic she never really knew existed.  From there, she and her friends have to piece together the rules of the magical world, before they inadvertently do something terribly wrong or terribly dangerous.  Dragons, princesses, goblins, and guardians all make their appearances, making the story a very satisfying fantasy experience.

Dragon’s Green is the first in a series, but it’s the kind of first that really makes you want to read the sequel.  The characters are sympathetic, the world intriguing, and the mystery thrilling.  I, for one, am excited by the possibility of going on another adventure with Effie and her friends.

5 stars

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede


Goodreads: Dealing with Dragons
Series: Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1
Source: Library
Published: 1990


To avoid a marriage with the dullest of princes, Cimorene runs away to live with dragons.  As a dragon’s princess she finds freedom and excitement in learning magic, going through the library, and trying new recipes. If only those knights would stop showing up to try to rescue her!


In Dealing with Dragons, Patricia C. Wrede introduces  a world where all the rules are about to broken.  Princesses are not supposed to learn magic, nor are they supposed to read Latin, or reject the hands of perfectly respectable knights.  And they are certainly not supposed to volunteer to be a dragon’s princess!  But Cimorene does not care what is or is not done.  She only wants to be happy and to avoid her impending marriage with a very boring prince.

Cimorene is the type of spunky heroine it feels impossible not to cheer along.  She’s bold, she’s smart, she’s persevering, and she’s kind.  No obstacle seems impassable to her.  If she thinks of something that needs to be done, well, she’ll set off and do it!  Furthermore, she’s surrounded by a compelling cast of characters, from her wise dragon to a witch who cooks crepes to the shy princess who lives a few caves down.  Together, they form quite a formidable team, one bound by friendship.  They simply make you want to join their adventures!

And the story is funny.  Wrede delights in playing with fairy tale tropes, turning them on their heads or making readers giggle at the nonsensical nature of it all.  It’s a little like The Paper Bag Princess for middle school readers.  There’s a feminist message, but it doesn’t feel like a message.  It’s just the way things are.  Because our heroine is brave and strong.  And she can do anything she sets her mind to.

If you like princess stories, fairy tales, dragons, or simply a good fantasy, Dealing with Dragons may be just the book for you.  It’s not a long volume but it certainly is memorable.

4 stars

The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation by Shannon and Dean Hale, LeUyen Pham


Goodreads: The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation
Series:  Princess in Black #4
Source: Library
Published: Nov. 2016


Fifteen monsters in seven days?  Princess Marigold is ready for a break from her goat-protecting duties as the Princess in Black.  But when she takes a trip to the beach, she discovers that her vacation might not be so peaceful after all.


Though my library shelves these books with the middle grade, I think that they could more accurately be considered beginner readers.  The plots and the jokes are very simplistic and somewhat repetitive.  Some of the vocabulary is more advanced, but the sentences are simple and also somewhat repetitive.  I can see young readers enjoying these a lot, especially because the idea of a princess who fights monsters is undeniably cool, but, as an older reader, I find myself not entirely charmed.

Strikingly, I have only read the first book and the series and now this fourth one and it seems very much as if I have not missed anything and that I am actually reading a variation of the same book.  In book one, we are introduced to the Goat Avenger.  In book four, it seems the Princess in Black has just met the Goat Avenger.  A joke that was made about the Princess in Black in book one is made about the Goat Avenger in book four.  Moves that the Princess in Black uses in book one are used again in book four (perhaps not surprisingly).  And the plot?  Well, it boils down to the Princess in Black fights monsters.  This could work, obviously–“monster of the week” works–but somehow it feels a tad bland, even with all the bright illustrations.

Still, I recognize that younger readers tend to embrace repetition and that these books are not written for me.  I would definitely introduce children to them because I am sure they’d fall in love with a princess who can fight and that they would find the jokes funny even when I do not.  I would prefer a beginner reader that could also appeal more to adults–this is important since adults end up reading these books many times with their children–but the series sells, so it’s clearly doing something right.

3 starsKrysta 64

The Girl in the Tower by Lisa Schroeder (ARC Review)

The Girl in the TowerInformation

GoodreadsThe Girl in the Tower
Series: None
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: March 26, 2016

Official Summary

Ever since she can remember, ten-year-old Violet and her mother have been locked away in a tower by the evil Queen Bogdana, who has the kingdom under her spell. The queen has everything she wants except for one thing — beauty. Violet possesses this beauty. She also has a secret: although she is very small, both her spirit and her heart are mighty.

When Violet is summoned by Bogdana to start training to become a real princess, it seems as if her life might be taking a turn for the better. But hope quickly fades when Violet’s mother is banished from the castle, and she and Violet are forbidden to see each other ever again. With everyone’s lives in the balance, it’s up to Violet to break the spell and reunite her family.


I love middle grade, fairy tales, and brave-hearted girls, so I really thought The Girl in the Tower was going to be right up my alley.  I wanted it, needed it, stalked Netgalley for it, and was lucky enough to get it.  I wish it had lived up to my expectations.

The Girl in the Tower has all the right ingredients for a blissful, charming middle grade fantasy, but they never came together in a compelling way for me.  I was thrown off by the stilted prose and awkward “old-timey” dialogue (time period unspecified because people never spoke English like this) in the opening pages, and I never got on the same track as the book.  Even protagonist Violet–proud, courageous, and full of imagination–could not draw me in, as she also suffered from clunky speech patterns and had a penchant for making wise pronouncements that left me unconvinced she was a ten-year-old who had spent the entirety of her life locked in a tower with only her mother for company and basically no access to books.

I also found the book overly schmaltzy, even for a children’s book based on the premise love will solve all, and I usually like schmaltz.  There were just too many cheesy observations about Violet being one with hummingbirds and people needing to allow love into their hearts and letting the music guide you, etc.  for me to buy into the idea that people in this kingdom both thought things like this and walked around saying them with serious expressions.  I think the book was going for a deep, pensive tone that tackled all the really important things in life and showed readers that imagination and looking at the world with optimism are important, but it just came across as weird to me.

I’m usually a high rater but I talked myself into being firm about this one and following the Goodreads rating descriptions.  I gave it two stars to reflect the fact that I finished reading it primarily out of a sense of obligation and secondarily due to the fact I had nothing else to read on a long train ride.  I also can’t see myself recommending it, even to other readers I know who are normally charmed by middle grade.  I see the book is garnering some delighted reviews, but for now I’m going to have to be the black sheep on this one.

2 stars Briana

If You Like Princesses Who Can Punch, Then Read…

If You Like (60)

If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale

Princess Marigold’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, Marigold 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?

RAPUnzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Ill. by Nathan Hale

Shannon and Dean Hale set their retelling of Rapunzcel in an Old West-like territory, which Rapunzel crosses while battling outlaws with her braids.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

When a dragon burns Princess Elizabeth’s castle to the ground and kidnaps her betrothed, she has nothing left but a paper bag to wear to rescue her prince.  But that’s nothing a princess with wits and bravery can’t handle.


When Princess Iardith is kidnapped, Princess Rhis and her friends must band together to prevent the outbreak of war.

the Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley

Tired of waiting in a tower for some prince to rescue her, Princess Adrienne escapes with the aid of her guard dragon Sparky and sets off to rescue her sisters from their various prisons.

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Silmarillion tells the stories of numerous powerful women, but perhaps one of the most striking is the tale of Beren and Luthien.  Luthien alone has the power to face the Dark Lord Morgoth and save her lover’s life.