You want some rockin summer reading? Nothing heavy, but lots of fun, with maybe some thinky stuff thrown in if you feel like thinking while you scoop sand up with your toes and let the waves lull you to sleep? (or you could go to your local big mouse store & roll your eyes at the merchandising of the following characters)
Jim Hines’ Princess series started with The Stepsister Scheme back in 2009. It was closely followed by The Mermaid’s Madness and a year later, Red Hood’s Revenge. But it’s never too late to wave the pay attention flag when it comes to books you really like. So, here’s my flag: read this series! Hines has a fourth book coming out July 5th called The Snow Queen’s Shadow. Yay, can’t wait!
The princesses in the books are take charge, solve their own problems and take orders from the Queen kind of women agents. Hines took the original fairy tale princesses and gave them humanity, flaws, and honest reactions to their abuse from their not-such-fairy-tale-lives. The stories Disney loves to sanitize? Are totally fluffy light fairy tales in the current meaning of the term. The princesses real lives (and original stories) are nothing like their more well-known stories. Just ask the violent Talia — I dare you — about her prince and his family. What does a Cinderella named Danielle do to calm herself down after being treated like a slave in her household? Eat bonbons and order the servants about? Not damned likely. And what about Snow, the seemingly easy-goingest Princess of the bunch? You really don’t want to know about her mother.
It’s not only that they break the classicDisneyprincess mold, Danielle, Talia and Snow interact. A lot. With each other. Solving problems, disagreeing. There’s scarcely a male around, except the infrequently seen King and Danielle’s husband and young son, and a smattering of fairies and secondary characters. These women are the center of the stories. In The Stepsister Scheme, Danielle’s husband the prince is kidnapped by her eviller step sister who wants not only her husband and her unborn child but a little something extra from a powerful player in the fairy realm. Queen Beatrice sends Danielle, Talia, and Snow to recover the prince, and it’s a fun ride from there that blows away any misconceptions about princesses you might have had.
The second book involves the Merfolk and the Little Mermaid was not the blessed creature from the Hans Christian Andersen story. Oh no. This one has been driven mad with love and hatred, and it’s up to Danielle and company to get her to stop sinking ships in their shipping lanes and find out why the Merfolk have broken their treaty and started attacking shipping and coastal towns.
In this book Hines goes deeper into the world he’s created. After all, what kind of world is it that has Merfolk in the waters, magic in the sands, fairies living in a cordoned off town, and where your next step could be the last one you ever make. And it is, sort of, for one of the characters (not telling you which one). There are consequences.
Red Hood’s Revenge introduces another character from a well-known tale, only this isn’t a naive little girl evading a wolf. Oh no. You don’t want to get on Hood’s bad side, because she’s a premiere assassin. Like Talia, Danielle and Snow, she has her reasons for why she has become what she has become. Hood takes us to Talia’s home country, and we get a look at what happens when supernatural creatures take over. It’s not good. We discover more about Talia, which is always a bonus. She’s my favorite character; she has the most on-going angstiness of any of them, but Snow may soon surpass that with the next book. I don’t know about that for sure, because I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
And lastly, although technically this isn’t a book about a princess, is a favorite of mine from way back. I searched for it for years (it had criminally gone out of print) and yay! It was recently reprinted after a long absence.
Diana Wynne Jones is up there as one of the best fantasy writers out there, in my opinion. Her recent passing is a huge loss to readers of fantasy. She published one of my favorite stories way back in 1975, and it still read well when I found it again. If you haven’t read Dogsbody you’re missing out on a fantastical, bittersweet story about immortal Sirius, a star sentenced to be a mortal dog on earth after allegedly murdering his companion star. His mission is to find the Zoi, a beyond powerful weapon that fell to Earth. While Sirius grows up from puppyhood and searches for the Zoi, he is adopted by Kathleen, an orphan living a hard life with horrible relatives. You could call her a variation of Cinderella, but you’d be underestimating Wynne Jones’ story and the character. She has no idea that Sirius is actually the Dog Star from up in the heavens. Herne, Sol, Earth and the Moon come to help Sirius out in ways that they can. After all, the celestial realm is harsh.
Kathleen may not be a classic princess in the way that Talia/Sleeping Beauty, Danielle/Cinderella and Snow/Snow White are, what with being members of royalty. She’s a real young girl, likable, downtrodden, doing the best she can to protect Sirius, and keeps her diginity while doing it-and seriously, can you ask for anything more in a contemporary fantasy? (I wouldn’t call it urban fantasy because it doesn’t have any of the characteristics of what is called UF at this time)
You could do a lot worse than invest in the Princess Quadrilogy and Diana Wynne Jones’ Dogsbody.