E.D. Baker,
The Frog Princess
(Bloomsbury, 2002)

It has been well documented that a kiss is much more than the brief contact between two pairs of lips.

Indeed, as E.D. Baker points out, its transformative abilities have been well noted in stories as disparate as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and, of course, The Frog Prince. The kiss has lost none of its potency in Baker's skewed fairy tale, as 14-year-old Princess Emeralda discovers. Succumbing to the pleas of yet another talking frog claiming to be an enchanted prince (goodness, there seem to be rather a lot of those around), she reluctantly puckers up -- and is herself changed into a frog. She and her froggy companion, Prince Eadric, embark upon a quest to regain their humanity; it is, as Eadric puts it, "a matter of life or froghood." Their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink adventures include amusing episodes with Vannabe, the would-be wicked witch, a disgruntled swamp fairy, various enchanted and/or talking creatures, several kisses (few of them between humans) and insects of varying degrees of tastiness. Fireflies, anyone? Or perhaps a nice, crunchy dragonfly?

The first-person narrative has a certain sprightly charm with a number of humorous and clever garnishes (the trash can vs. the trash can't; the difference between them becomes crucial when the contents of the trash can't are freed by Emma's spell), and as a whole is seldom less than enjoyable, though I was rolling my eyes when it came to a cartoonish talking bat named -- wait for it -- Li'l Stinker. The dialogue can be a bit wooden and very occasionally descends into downright corniness ("I would never have met the best friend I've ever had," says Emma to Eadric in a particularly cliched instance), but the book works well when being flippant and tongue-in-cheek, which it mostly is.

The greatest problem with the book is not what it does wrong, but what it fails to do; i.e. to be a really clever, memorable modern fairy tale. All the stereotypes of fairy tales are present, most turned on their heads with moderate success. But while they do subvert fairy tale conventions, neither characters, story nor world really take on a life of their own. There is nothing to make Baker's enchanted forest or generic fantasy world stand out from any other, and the characters are almost equally wanting. Even as the narrator of her own story, Emma comes across as just another member of a new generation of unconventional princesses (brave, kind hearted, but also shy and clumsy), and Eadric, amusingly self centered and imperfect, is only a little more individual. While reading The Frog Princess, I was reminded of a host of other modern fairy tale characters with more, well, character. Grassina pales beside the forceful, relentlessly no-nonsense Morwen of Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Eadric is nothing to Diana Wynne Jones's flamboyantly egotistical and selfish but lovable Howl. The pointed wit and skillful manipulation of fairy tales seen in Patrice Kindl's Goose Chase and Vivian Vande Velde's The Rumpelstiltskin Problem make The Frog Princess seem a trifle labored in comparison.

Writing skewed, young adult fairy tales has become a very popular thing to do, with the result that a number of books have been recently published that deal with the same basic themes. Fairy tale aficionados will enjoy Baker's offering, but may find themselves returning to stronger novels in this subgenre. The Frog Princess is an amusing little book, but it covers no new ground and leaves no deep impression.

by Jennifer Mo
5 November 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.