Posts Tagged “Princess” series

Hines’ “Princess” Series Wrap-up: Fun, Yet Incomplete

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

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Jim C. Hines “Princess” Series, Books One and Two: Intriguing, Funny, and Different

Jim C. Hines’ newest series is the “Princess” series, which retells the stories of Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty in an entirely new way.  These are novels that add intrigue, drama, romance and passion to stories that we all think we know, but perhaps don’t; they also are often wildly funny in a macabre sort of way, which is tough to pull off.

The first novel in the “Princess” series is THE STEPSISTER SCHEME, where we meet Princess Danielle Whiteshore (neé de Glas), whom most of us know as Cinderella.  Danielle married Prince Armand of Lorindar, has been accepted by Armand’s family, and all seems to be going well at the beginning of this novel.

However, all is not as it seems; while Danielle and Armand are deeply in love, Danielle’s stepsisters Stacia and Charlotte remain incensed that Danielle has married into royalty.  Worse yet, due to an incident at Danielle’s wedding (where Danielle’s stepmother acted badly, so some pigeons pecked her to death), the stepsisters blame Danielle for their mother’s death as well.

This appears to be the main reason why Charlotte attempts to kill Danielle in the first chapter with unusually strong magic.  Danielle knows that Charlotte didn’t have this magic before, or she’d have used it to snare Armand (as Charlotte was infatuated with him); she manages to foil Charlotte’s assassination attempt with the help of a strange servant, Talia, who has unusually strong skill with weapons, and the help of some loyal birds.  But because of this new magic, Charlotte gets away to points unknown.

Quickly, we find out that Danielle has a rather unusual magic talent in that she can speak to animals (unlike Mercedes Lackey’s version, Animal Mindspeech, the animals cannot speak directly back), which is why the birds helped foil the assassination attempt (one was killed and another seriously wounded); that Talia isn’t what she seems, either, as she’s Sleeping Beauty, albeit a Sleeping Beauty who’s skilled with weapons (her fairy “birth gifts” gave her uncommon grace and balance); and that there’s a third Princess, Snow White (otherwise known as Ermillina Curtana, though she hates her name and prefers to be called “Snow”), who has major magical talent of her own.

But Charlotte’s attempt on Danielle’s life was only a feint, we find out, as Prince Armand has been kidnapped and taken prisoner.  (Mind you, Charlotte would’ve been glad to kill Danielle, had it worked.)  Queen Beatrice (“Bea” for short, Armand’s mother), Lorindar’s spymaster, initially decides to send Talia and Snow to rescue Armand, but Danielle argues her way onto the team. 

This is a good thing, because all three princesses’ talents will be needed to first find out where Armand is (as there’s been no demand for ransom), then to rescue him.  During the series of adventures that follow, the three princesses bond and become friends; they also all turn out to have very odd senses of humor (Snow in particular is a punster), which enlivens their adventures and turns them, at times, into farce.

So while the rescue of Prince Armand is never in doubt, what it takes to get him back is extremely sad, funny, enjoyable, and intriguing (in both senses of the word) by turns.  That’s because THE STEPSISTER SCHEME is really good fun.  It is eminently readable, has good emotional depth, and seems quite plausible due to the “story distortion” effect (where the more people talk about something, the more a story changes).

After reading the successful start to the “Princess” series, I couldn’t wait to read book two, THE MERMAID’S MADNESS.   Queen Bea needs to meet with the merfolk due to treaty concerns; the reason she must do so rather than her husband the King is because the merfolk are matriarchal.  Princess Danielle is along because she has to be presented to the merfolk as Prince Armand’s new wife.

Of course, things do not proceed as planned.  Danielle has seasickness, but that’s not the worst of her troubles; Queen Bea and Danielle find out at the same time that the King of the merfolk is dead and his unstable daughter, Lirea, has taken the throne.  Lirea won’t honor the treaty between the humans of Lorindar and her people; about the only thing she does right is tell Bea and Danielle to their faces that the treaty is now null and void.

As this is a novel that turns well-known fairy tales on their collective heads, we quickly find out that Lirea is otherwise known as “the Little Mermaid.”  She fell in love with a human man, wanted to stay with him, but was rebuffed.  However, this has brought out her war-like nature, and that’s why she called off the treaty with Lorindar (even though her man was from another place entirely).

Lirea’s sister, Lannadae, knows there’s something wrong, so she comes on board Queen Bea’s ship, the Glass Slipper.  But Lannadae is a complete innocent, even though she’s only a year or so younger than Lirea; she is easily manipulated by other merfolk, is timid and shy, and while she’s possibly the only other person who can take the throne of the merfolk and do well with it, she refuses to intrigue against her sister — Lannadae will only attempt to heal Lirea, nothing more.

Lannadae ends up in Lorindar for a time, while Danielle, Talia, and Snow all plan to get to Lirea and find out what’s going on there and stop it, if at all possible.  But because the merfolk have ended the treaty, the waters surrounding Lorindar are no longer safe; this is why when they do go out to sea again, they board dryad Captain Hephyra’s ship, the Phillipa.  Hephyra’s ship, you see, was made from her original tree, and thus should be stouter and stronger despite it being smaller than the Glass Slipper as Hephyra should be able to counter most magic without half-trying, being of magical origin herself.

There seems to be only one person who might be able to heal Lirea, the merfolk’s exiled Queen Mother, Morveren.  She’s hidden on an island for what turns out to be good reason; she is a magic user, and can do serious harm to people of all races whenever she feels like it.  But she swears that all she wants to do is help to heal Lirea, and Lannadae concurs; that’s why, despite some inner misgivings, Morveren is taken on to Hephyra’s ship and they all proceed to attempt to heal Lirea.

So, will they heal Lirea?  Will Lannadae lose her naïveté, or at least become slightly less clueless?  What will Morveren do, and when will she do it?  And why, oh why, can’t any “Little Mermaids” other than the Disney cartoon version ever seem to find a happy ending?

Hines’ writing is crisp and clean, the story is plausible, and once again, the emotional depth is there along with the wit and satire that so enlivened THE STEPSISTER SCHEME.  Yet something here wasn’t quite as interesting, something I can’t quite put my finger on; all I know is, while this is a good story that held my interest, it didn’t measure up to the first novel in the series.  And as this is the second time this has happened in a Hines’ series, if I were his editor, I’d be working with him to strengthen the second book in any given series as this seems to be a pattern he must learn to break.

That said, both novels are a lot of fun to read; they are fast-paced, energetic, with a goodly amount of intrigue and strife along with the humor, and that is really tough to pull off.

My recommendation is to buy these novels in paperback.  They’re fun and funny, and are well worth your time to read. 




— reviewed by Barb


Note:  Books three and four of this series will be reviewed in coming days.

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