Tag Archives: Improper Princess

Deerskin

McKinley, Robin. Deerskin (1993). 309 Pages. Ace Fantasy. $7.99

Warning: This book deals with rape an other “adult” themes.

From the Cover:

As Princess Lissar reaches womanhood, it is clear to all the kingdom that in her breathtaking beauty she is the mirror image of her mother, the queen. But this seeming blessing forces her to flee for safety from her father’s wrath. With her loyal dog Ash at her side, Lissar unlocks a door to a world of magic, where she finds the key to her survival– and an adventure beyond her wildest dreams…

First Lines

Many years later she remembered how her parents had looked to her when she was a small child: her father as tall as a tree, and merry and bright and golden, with her beautiful black-haired mother at his side. She saw them, remembered them, as if she were looking at a painting; they were too splendid to be real, and always they seemed at some little distance from her, from all onlookers. They were always standing close together as she remembered them, often gazing into each other’s eyes, often handclasped, often smiling; and always there was a radiance like sunlight flung around them.

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Secondhand Charm

Berry, Julie. Secondhand Charm (2010). 342 Pages. Bloomsbury. $16.99

From the Cover

Deep in the forest, in a secluded village, a young girl has become known for her unique powers as a healer. Even gypsy charms– mere trinkets when worn by others– seem enchanted when Evie ties them around her neck. The love charm may be especially  potent, since Aidan, the handsome stonemason’s apprentice, has been unusually attentive lately. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next door. She longs to travel to the city, to study at University.

When His Majesty the king pays an unexpected visit for the town’s annual feast day, Evie gets her chance. He awards her a scholarship, and suddenly– accompanied by both Aidan and her best friend, Prissy– Evie is on her way. But this story is no simple fairy tale*. Her journey takes unexpected twists, from the high seas to t he royal palace. And Evie will discover not just intrigue, adventure, and romance, but a most incredible legacy… a magic within herself she is only beginning to understand.

First Lines

“What will you do when school is done, Evie?”

Priscilla peered at me through her thick spectacles. They had the unfortunate effect of making her already watery eyes swim large and fishlike. That didn’t bother me. After eight years as academic rivals at Sister Claire’s school, Priscilla and I had both decided that it was much easier being friends. And what were fish eyes between friends?

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Spindle’s End

McKinley, Robin. Spindle’s End (2000). 422 Pages. Firebird. $6.99

Princess Briar-Rose would have been special even had her parents not been barren for so long before her birth. She was a Crown-Princess, to become the first queen in nearly 400 years. However, the evil fairy Pernicia has been waiting for a queen for a very long time. On the princess’s name-day, Pernicia takes the opportunity to curse the child; she will prick her finger and die on her 21st birthday.

Shocked, and a bit overwhelmed, nobody reacts but the fairy Katriona, a young woman from far away Foggy Bottom. With the help of another fairy, Katriona whisks the princess away, hoping to hide her, and protect her with “ordinariness.” This gives Rosie the time to grow up, into a strong young woman who has a chance against the dark fate she faces.

First Lines

The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust. (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn’t, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water.

Thoughts:

Everyone knows Sleeping Beauty. The infant princess, cursed by an evil fairy, saved by a good one. Doomed to prick her finger and die, but not truly. Spindle’s End is simultaneously Sleeping Beauty, and its own tale, and that is what makes it so wonderful. Rosie is anything but the weak-willed, doomed princess who is so often present in this tale. Katriona is far from the silly fairies of Disney fame. The two of them transform the story from a classic into something new, and a bit exciting.

One of the more interesting themes in this book is family, and how everything is about love, rather than blood. Katriona loves Rosie as her own, wanting nothing more than to keep Rosie forever, instead of having to give her back to the royal family, or lose her to the curse. Rosie feels loved, and accepted, but just a little different, a little outside of her family. And the royal family, as distant as they are, clearly love Rosie, too. Peony and Rosie are closer than sisters, the sort of friends who are together through everything.

There are many supporting characters who play a major role in either world-building, or plot-moving. There are very few characters who do not make multiple appearances, and every single character serves a purpose, which can be difficult when writing about an entire kingdom.

I find myself re-reading Spindle’s End periodically, enjoying it in a slightly different way each time. There are a few surprises, the first time, a few details you may have missed in the second read, a few more in the third, and each time, it becomes a richer experience as you get the chance to savor favorite scenes. It’s an enduring favorite, which of course gets a 5/5.

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The Hero and the Crown

McKinley, Robin. The Hero and the Crown (2000 ed.) 246 Pages. Puffin. $5.99

Aerin is a king’s daughter, a first-sol, and an outsider in her own country. Her mother was a Northerner, a mysterious woman who many said bewitched the king. Having always been hyper-aware of her tenuous position in her father’s kingdom, Aerin has allowed herself to be pushed aside, and overlooked.

When she comes across a recipe for kenet- which promises fireproofing, even from dragons- Aerin finds a purpose. She gains a reputation for dragonslaying, but this is only the beginning of a fate which is much greater than anyone could have guessed.

First Lines:

She could not remember a time when she had not know the story; she had grown up knowing it. She supposed someone must have told her it, sometime, but she could not remember the telling. She was beyond having to blink back tears when she thought of those things the story explained, but when she was feeling smaller and shabbier than usual in the large vivid City high in the Damarian Hills she still found herself brooding about them; and brooding sometimes brought on a tight headachy feeling around her temples, a feeling like suppressed tears.

Thoughts:

This is one of those books which I have quite literally loved to pieces. I first found The Hero and the Crown during a hard time in my life– mom and I were living with a crazy landlady, and we both needed our escapes. Perhaps it is because of those memories that this book will always have a special place for me. I am completely and utterly in love with Damar, and the stories set there.

Despite the fact that The Blue Sword was written first, I always start with The Hero and the Crown, because it comes first in Damarian chronology. I love reading about Aerin* and everything she does. She might be one of my favorite heroines ever* and her story is fantastic.

I am not going to pretend to be reasonable about my love of this book, because after so long, nothing reasonable remains. As far as I am concerned, it is a brilliant story with brilliant writing and brilliant characters. If I had to complain about something, it would be that McKinley has said that there may be more Damar books but she has not written them yet.

This book gets a 5/5 and the unwavering insistence that if you like Fantasy, you should read this book.

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* I swear, it’s not because her name is so similar to mine.

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The Extra-Ordinary Princess

Ebbit, Carolyn Q. The Extra-Ordinary Princess (2009). 324 Pages. Bloomsbury. $7.99

From the Back Cover:

In the peaceful land of Gossling, there are four princesses. The three older girls are beautiful and talented and very good at everything they do– but not the fourth. Amelia’s unruly red hair, imperfect schoolwork, and disdain for anything prim and proper make her a most unlikely princess.

Then a plague sweeps through the land of Gossling, taking the lives of the girls’ parents. With Amelia’s eldest sister too young to rule, the kingdom is left in the hands of their terrifying uncle, Count Raven. But before Count Raven can cast a spell over them to protect his reign forever, Amelia escapes. Now it seems the fate of her sisters– and the kingdom of Gossling– is in the hands of a girl who will prove she is much more than ordinary.

First Lines:

On the sixth day, the queen lay dying. The afternoon was bright, and the sun peeking through the tightly drawn curtain was strong, though outside the heat of the past ten weeks has broken and it was finally fall.

For four months a terrible illness had spread through the small country of Gossling; it spread quickly through the tiny towns and villages, traveling down the long rivers and over high hills, through the country’s dense forests and into its cities. No scientist, doctor, or scholar knew how the sickness spread or how it might be cured. ….

Thoughts:

If the book had been what was suggested by the back cover, then it might have been brilliant. Indeed, the concept was a solid one; Amelia, youngest of four, struggles with a sense of self, and feelings of inadequacy. Where her sisters are talented, and everything seems effortless to them, Amelia has to work hard. She is not particularly smart, not particularly graceful, and not particularly anything. She is ordinary, and cannot handle her ordinariness.

When the plague comes to the country, Amelia’s parents send her and her sisters away to their summer home in the mountains. Finally, her parents succumb to the disease, leaving Merrill only 7 weeks shy of the 18 years-old that she needs to be in order to rule. Why they could not have disregarded this rule, I do not know. Seven weeks is not so very much difference, frankly.

So anyway, the Evil Uncle comes– you know he’s evil from the beginning, and it only gets more obvious from there. He turns Merrill into a tree, and Lily and Rose into swans. He misses Amelia, because she is still in the summer palace with chicken pox. From here, things take a steep downturn.

Amelia runs off with her friend Henry and her enemy Meg and begins her adventure in a place called the Sunflower Forest. From there, they travel quite a bit, seemingly unperturbed by the forty-day limit they have in which to save her sisters. Eventually, they end up in the Night Forest, a magical place, where Henry is given a prophesy saying that he will save the kingdom (which he never does), and Amelia gets three magical rocks which she can wish on. I put emphasis on the three because she uses it four times. (Once for Henry, once for Meg, twice for different transportation.)

When Amelia and Henry are in the Mountains, they are distressed that there are only three days left, but when they meet their allies after traveling two days, they state that there are 48 hours remaining until the curse becomes permanent.  Time remains an issue through the end of the book, as numbers are simply thrown around “two hours later” “four hours later”, “at two-fifteen in the morning” etc.

On top of all of this, there are many, many fruitless side-plots. Meg is not evil, but spoiled, and she becomes “good”, sort of. Amelia is dyslexic, but it only shows up in one chapter. The plague ends after her parents die, but nobody ever speculates as to its source or purpose, and later in the book, someone mentions checking the progress of the plague. The title “White Queen” is thrown around quite a bit, but at times it seems it is meant to be secret, and at times it seems to be public knowledge. Amelia and her sisters have their own magic, but it rarely manifests itself, except when convenient. Henry is a gardener’s son, but the queen took an interest in him and nursed him herself, making him Amelia’s “milk twin” but this is never really explained.

There is so much going on in this book that at times it seems to lose track of itself, which is unfortunate, because it has a lot of potential. The concept is good, and with a few less distracting side-plots, and some more focus on fixing inconsistencies, it could have actually been a good book. In part, it was the writing, and in part it was the editing which doomed this book to score a 2/5.

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Book of a Thousand Days

Hale, Shannon. Book of a Thousand Days (2007). 304 Pages. Bloomsbury. $17.95

The Synopsis:

Unlucky Dashti was hopeful when she learned that she would be lady’s maid to the beautiful Lady Saren. Unfortunately for Dashti, her first day of work resulted in her imprisonment in a tower with Lady Saren– they will be there for seven years, or until Saren agrees to marry Lord Khasar. As a contrast to the dark, cruel Lord Khasar, there is Khan Tegus– a man Saren has pledged herself to.

Dashti is resourceful and practical, and has every intention of getting them out of the tower alive, which would be easier if Lady Saren would help. Neither girl has any idea of what awaits them at the end of their time in the tower, and as their food dwindles, they begin to wonder if they will even last that long.

First Lines:

Day 1

My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years.

Lady Saren is sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, and hasn’t moved even to scratch for an hour or more. Poor thing. It’s a shame I don’t have fresh yak dung or anything strong-smelling to scare the misery out of her.

Thoughts:

Based off of Grimm’s “Maid Maleen,” and set in a Mongolia-esque country, Book of a Thousand Days is Dashti’s story, told in journal form. Dashti is a survivor, and against all odds, she has the determination and character to persevere, which is what makes her interesting. Coupled with that determination, however, is a sense of worthlessness; Dashti honestly feels that she has no value beyond her role as Saren’s servant, and it makes her frustrating, at times.

The world is interesting, Dashti’s voice unique, the entire concept brilliantly executed. Saren can be more than a little frustrating at times, as can Dashti’s self-deprecation, when it is clear that she is worth much more than she knows.

Book of a Thousand Days scores a 4.5/5, because it’s brilliant, but the girls could be frustrating.

I really loved this book, however, and it made me want to pick up Tanith Lee’s Claidi books again.

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Goose Chase

Kindl, Patrice. Goose Chase (2010 ed). 214 Pages. Sandpiper. $5.99

Not exactly the cover I read...

Alexandria Aurora Fortunato is a sassy narrator who tells her story with panache. It opens strong, and keeps up the pace and wit throughout. She starts in the middle, works her way back to the beginning, and then finally gets to the end.

The King killed my canary today.

Now, I know full well that the customary way to begin such a tale as mine is: “Once upon a time, when wishes still came true, there lives a poor orphan Goose Girl,” or some such fiddle-faddle. But what do I care for custom? ‘Tis my own story I am telling and I will tell it as I please. And as I find myself plunged into it right up to the neck, I see no reason why you should not be also. (1)

The book was re-released recently with a new cover (right), though I think I prefer the old cover a bit more. Anyway, our narrator and heroine is Alexandria Aurora Fortunato who is, when we first meet her, locked in a tower. A King and a Prince await her decision as to which of them she will marry. Unwilling to choose, and unable to accept the consequences of her decision either way, she stalls for time by insisting that she be allowed to make her own solid gold wedding dress. She will not marry either until it is complete.

Alexandria gains quite a bit of time when her geese manage to save her from the tower and fly her far away, but it is almost worse in the wilderness than the tower. Sure, she no longer has to deal with the issues surrounding her choice between the Prince or the King, but she’s been grabbed by a group of ogresses, and she’s not entirely sure how to escape. Her enchanted hair certainly isn’t helping her case.

Then, just when Alexandria begins to think that things simply cannot get any worse, the Prince is captured by the ogresses. Somehow, Alexandria has to save both their skins, because there is quite a bit more adventure ahead of them.

The climax is hardly surprising, and the ending is completely expected, if you’re familiar with “The Wild Swans,” though it is not the same story, exactly.

In Conclusion:

With surprisingly strong prose, and a vocabulary which feels a bit dense, even for the junior-high readers it targets, this novel can even be enjoyed by adults. Alexandria is a solid narrator, and a good character who draws you in, and keeps you interested in her story. There are a few things which don’t seem to sync up; The Prince starts out dumb, but without explanation seems to get smarter when it’s convenient, which is rather frustrating. As a whole though, it’s a solid story which I enjoyed reading. It gets a 4/5.

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A Hidden Magic

Vande Velde, Vivian. A Hidden Magic (1997). 176 Pages. Magic Carpet Books. $6.95

We got a lot of new books at work, and this was one of many that I grabbed off the shelf. I expected a few laughs, and some silliness, and this book delivered. It’s certainly not deep, and it was a quick read.* It’s funny in the same way that The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is funny; an Improper Princess goes on an adventure and picks up a sidekick along the way.

Once upon a time– before kings and queens were replaced by an act of Congress and when kissing a frog still sometimes resulted in more than a case of warts– there lived a young princess named Jennifer.

Now Jennifer was not your average beautiful princess living in a magnificent palace. In fact, she was actually rather plain and shy, with the chubby, good-natured kind of face parents tend to call nice… (1)

Jennifer is your standard Improper Princess, who unfortunately falls for a very pretty Handsome Prince. Of course, he’s incredibly selfish and self-centered, and when he encounters Jennifer as she does the laundry, he doesn’t even help her carry it. (Though, because he is so handsome, Jennifer doesn’t seem to mind.)

Unfortunately, Jennifer is so besotted with the handsome prince that she doesn’t realize he’s an idiot, so when he suggests that they go into an enchanted forest, she agrees. It’s no surprise that they get lost, and is even less surprising that when they find a cottage, prince Alexander gets bespelled. (By a mirror, because he can’t help staring into it, and then tries to steal it.) Unlike Alexander, Jennifer has a bit of common sense, and goes to find some help.

The first person Jennifer comes across in her exploration of the wood is the Old Witch, who lives in a cave and talks to her magic pool. Things don’t go quite right, and everyone else Jennifer meets is just as odd as the Old Witch. Eventually, because this is fairy-tale based, prince Alexander is saved, and everyone lives happily ever after.

In Conclusion:

A Hidden Magic is a lighthearted fantasy adventure for kids. The story is well-written, and fun. The pacing is good, and it keeps going along without being too fast. If it were targeted at an older group (than elementary school), it would be a little sparse, but for beginning readers who want chapter books and fun stories, this book is ideal. (It also manages to stay interesting for adult readers) It gets a 4/5.

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* I’m a pretty fast reader, so I finished it in a little over an hour. I think most adult readers could tear through it in 3 or less hours.

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You only have until tomorrow to enter, if you’re interested in a free book! I’ll be deciding the winner tomorrow (July 30th) at about 9pm PST, so be sure you comment by then! (I’ll even waive the haiku/limerick requirement, if you find it intimidating, or are hesitating because of that.)

Click here to go to the give-away!

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Talking to Dragons

Wrede, Patricia C. Talking to Dragons (1995). 255 Pages. Scholastic. $4.95 

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles: Book Four (or Book One)

Depending on who you ask, this is either the first book or the last book in the series. If you feel that this is the last book, be aware of spoilers. If you feel that it is the first, welcome to the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

Daystar has lived right next to the Enchanted Forest his whole life, but he has never spent much time there. His mother, Cimorene, has drilled two rules into his head since childhood; always be polite, especially to Dragons, and never say yes to an unknown favor. When he is sixteen years old, he enters the Enchanted Forest for the first time.

Armed with a magic sword, and good manners, Daystar is sent on a quest, even if he doesn’t have a clue what he’s supposed to do. He makes the acquaintance of a fire witch, meets a small lizard, and a young dragon, all without figuring out much more than that the King is sleeping in his castle.

Eventually Daystar learns that the sword he is carrying is very important, that Morwen the Witch and Telemain the Magician are both very powerful and very helpful– and know considerably more than he does about his quest– and that his mother was very right in teaching him to always be polite to Dragons.

Eventually, Daystar makes his way to the Castle of the Sleeping King, where he figures out what everyone has been hoping he’d do all along. The book climaxes with an epic battle, and ends on a good note. It resolves the story without ending everything. It’s not exactly “happily ever after” but all the characters are set up to find their ever-afters easily.

The Series as a Whole:

I choose to think of this as the fourth book, because I’ve always read it last. It makes a solid close to a long story, one which has been well written, and is really enjoyable. The appearance and re-appearance of familiar characters makes it feel like one contiguous work, which is nice. Each one has just enough difference from the last that you’re interested, and things are steadily growing off what has already been set up.

As a series opener, it’s fascinating; you start with the end, you know the happily ever after, and so the “What” is solved. Reading the rest of the books is like learning the “Why”, which is really not a bad way to do things. Beginning with the end is a fun way to tell a story.

The series gets an overall score of 5/5.

The Quick Version:

This is one of the first Fantasy series I remember reading, and because of this I know I’m at least a little biased. However, I’ve read it so many times that I nearly have the book memorized and I still enjoy it. This book in particular is good. Daystar makes a great protagonist, and whether you know what’s going on or not, you find yourself rooting for him. It scores a 5/5 for being a great book.

Want to read it? Get it through Amazon or Swaptree.

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Calling on Dragons

Wrede, Patricia C. Calling on Dragons (1994). 244 Pages. Scholastic. $3.95*

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles: Book Three

Because this is the third book in a series, there are very likely to be spoilers for the first two books. Proceed with caution.

It is purely by accident that King Mendanbar discovers that  his sword has been stolen by wizards, allowing them to once again steal the forest’s magic. The bold theft is what will lead our familiar (and not-so-familiar) cast on yet another adventure to save the forest. With the sword out of the Enchanted Forest, however, Mendanbar must remain at home to be the focus of the protection spell. This means that Cimorene must lead the party, and Mendanbar is by no means happy about it.

In Calling on Dragons we see their adventures from Morwen’s point of view, which means that we get to hear what her cats are actually saying for the first time. They lend a comedic edge to the book which it would otherwise have been missing. (And it gives us some insight into cat romance). Killer, the six foot tall talking blue donkey-rabbit who blunders into more and more difficult and stupid situations. He makes things funny, but can at times be very annoying.

We see a lot more of the world outside the Enchanted Forest or Mountains of Morning, mostly due to the adventure.  Telemain speaks in magical technical gibberish, and Kazul stops him. Morwen is practical, Cimorene equally so. Killer is silly, and the cats are funny. There is also a very entertaining scene with a cranky magic mirror. This book, like the others, will have you laughing and enjoying yourself.

The Quick Version:

As I have said on other books which are the third in the series; it’s more of a bridge than a stand-alone book. The story begins, but does not conclude, and has a rather severe cliffhanger at the end. It is still good, is still very entertaining, and in a lot of ways is my favorite book in the series. It gets a 4.5 out of 5 because of the cliffhanger.

If you want to read it, pick it up on Amazon or though Swaptree.

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* This is the price on the old edition which I received used.

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