Jim C. Hines’s “Princess” series (books one and two were reviewed here) discusses stories most of us thought we knew — Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White — and turns them on their heads. In Hines’s vision, all three Princesses can kick some serious butt, which means that anything — or anyone — that dares to threaten them must either have a death wish, or believes that there’s no other choice but to confront these three formidable ladies.
The third novel in Hines’s “Princess” series is RED HOOD’S REVENGE. Here, we meet Roudette — the Lady of the Red Hood — who’s a high-class assassin. Roudette is said to never miss her target; she’ll also deal with just about anyone, including fairies and Elves, despite her well-known hatred of them, providing she lives to get paid. And so far, she’s always lived.
But in attempting to kill Princess Danielle Whiteshore of Lorindar (the former Cinderella), Roudette has met her match. This is because Danielle has two other Princesses on her side — Princess Talia of Arathea (the former Sleeping Beauty), possibly the foremost weaponsmaster in the known world due to being gifted with Elfin grace at birth, and Princess Ermillina Curtana of Allesandria (Snow White; she continues to go by Snow), one of the strongest mages ever known — while Roudette has only herself and one other person to initially help her — Danielle’s only surviving step-sister, Charlotte. Roudette uses Danielle’s family feeling for Charlotte and attempts to entrap Danielle; when this fails (and Charlotte dies), Talia takes Roudette prisoner, while Snow binds Roudette with a powerful fairy curse that should keep Roudette from killing them.
But the personage who hired Roudette — a powerful Elf named “the Duchess,” a fugitive from Fairytown who’s nevertheless managed to grow a large, criminal enterprise underground — is not put off; the Duchess attempts again and again to take Danielle, reasons unknown. One of the attempts finally succeeds, but Snow manages to divert it long enough so they don’t go directly to the Duchess; instead, they end up in Arathea, Talia’s birthplace. Talia was badly betrayed by the prince who woke her up (not with a kiss, but with a rape; she woke only when she delivered twins), and had fled Arathea in order to keep it from plunging into civil war as she was the very last of the previous royal family left alive.
When Talia shows up in Arathea, various factions pledge themselves to her defense, including the monastic order who helped her to heal, then to escape. But Talia doesn’t want to rule; all she wants is to be left alone. Yet Queen Lakhim doesn’t believe her, and keeps making attempts on Talia’s life — what’s a princess to do?
Along the way, we find out that Talia’s unrequited love for Snow has now been recognized, but can’t be returned as Snow is heterosexual; Danielle’s talents with small animals remains intact (without her being able to talk with mice, rats, and birds, and get them to actively help them, this would’ve been a quicker and far bloodier book indeed); Roudette has an odd sense of honor and justice, and really wants to see the fairies deposed, especially as they’ve taken hold of much of Arathea due to “Sleeping Beauty’s” long-entrapment inside the thorny hedge; and Snow just wants to be out of the way-too-hot climate, which is one reason why she taxes her magic talents to the limit to try to get them out.
Once that mystery is solved (and no, I won’t reveal it, thank you; read RED HOOD’S REVENGE for yourself!), we’re on to the fourth, and supposedly final, volume of the “Princess” series, which is THE SNOW QUEEN’S SHADOW. Here, Queen Beatrice (“Bea”) of Lorindar is dying (this is Danielle’s mother-in-law), and Snow White in particular feels devastated. Bea, you see, took Snow in when no one else would, and kept Snow from being killed outright by her cousin, Laurence, who became King of Allesandria mostly because Snow didn’t feel like fighting him — and partly because Snow hated what her mother, Queen Rose Curtana, had done to the country. As Snow looks a great deal like her mother, she probably made the best possible move by quietly leaving the country to Laurence.
However, because Snow loves Bea, Snow tries to do something she’s not really capable of doing: holding Bea’s soul beyond the expiration of Bea’s body. There are reasons for this that go beyond Snow’s love; Snow feels responsible because of things that happened in previous books (especially book two, THE MERMAID’S MADNESS), and hopes that Bea will choose to stay around for love of her husband, her son, her grandson — and of course, Bea’s love for Snow, as Bea has always thought of Snow as a very close friend or possibly like a surrogate daughter. But things go terribly wrong . . . .
Everything else that happens in this novel relates to Snow trying to do something she really shouldn’t have; this is how the demon who’d been entrapped in Rose Curtana’s mirror (that Snow’s been using, all unthinking, for the past three books, to help her in her magical endeavors) ends up enslaving Snow and taking control of Prince Jakob — Danielle’s son by Lorindar’s Prince Armand — before Talia or Danielle can even think to put a stop to it. The demon goes on the run with Jakob, and causes major havoc; worse yet, because the demon answers to Snow’s name, and seems to think it really is Snow, for much of the book it seems that Snow has somehow gone bad due to the destruction of her mirror.
But that’s not the case at all; instead, Snow tries to save her friends by creating, literally in her last few unenslaved seconds, a copy of her — the sister she’d always wished she’d have, but never did. This artificially-created person has a soul of her own — something I didn’t completely understand — and memories, too; she goes by Princess Rose Gertrude Curtana (“Gerta,” for short). She’s red-haired, taller than Snow, not quite as good-looking as Snow, and — lucky for Talia — is a lesbian, and deeply attracted to Talia from the start. And she’s a strong magic-user from the start, though she’s not nearly as strong as Snow . . . in short, she’s a great deal like Snow, but she’s more herself than anyone, just like a real sister would’ve been, had Rose Curtana borne Gerta from her body (rather than Snow ripping Gerta live from Snow’s memories).
So there’s action-adventure going on here: how are they going to stop this demon in Snow’s body? There’s some fitful romance because Gerta can’t help it; she’s attracted to Talia, and isn’t going to keep it to herself. (That Talia feels really strange about all this makes no nevermind, not compared to the urgency of Gerta’s need.) There’s the power of sisterhood, which comes through strongly in all four books — especially the nostrum “Sisters Keep Doing it For Themselves” (apologies to the hiphop song) — and there’s the sense of great loss, which permeates the entirety of the book.
Yet as emphatic an ending as THE SNOW QUEEN’S SHADOW contains, it somehow, strangely, doesn’t seem completed. Maybe this is because of how Bea dies to start the book off; Snow watches Bea die while trying to capture Bea’s spirit (for a benevolent reason, mind, but still: Snow was trying to capture Bea’s spirit, and Bea wasn’t having any. I muttered, “Good for Bea.”), which isn’t an active thing at all. This is a scene of Snow actively waiting for Bea to pass over.
Then, the demon takes Snow in a way that’s essentially off-screen; Snow says, “Mother, what have you done?” and then, the Snow we know is gone. In her place, we have the demon, who does and says terrible things and won’t stop until she gets what she wants.
Essentially, this is a book where Snow is more like a voyeur than a participant, which is why THE SNOW QUEEN’S SHADOW doesn’t seem as well-balanced as the previous three novels. (How can it be? One of the three essential characters isn’t even present for most of it!) But that doesn’t make THE SNOW QUEEN’S SHADOW a bad book; it’s just an unsettled one, with less humor than the rest for obvious reasons.
At any rate, there definitely is room for more stories and novels in this universe, just as there is with regards to Hines’s other well-known SF series about Jig the Goblin; nothing wrong with that, but I would’ve liked to see a bit more finality.
RED HOOD’S REVENGE: A-minus. Solid, smart, and fills in the gaps of Talia’s backstory nicely.
THE SNOW QUEEN’S SHADOW: B. Enjoyable despite its distress, this is one “Queen” that deserves a sequel or two.
Grade for Princess Series overall: B-plus.
— reviewed by Barb