Jim C. Hines,
Princess Novels #1: The Stepsister Scheme
(DAW, 2009)

And they all lived happily ever after ... or did they? Jim Hines' Princess Novels take the fairy tales we all think we're familiar with and add a new spin on them. The Stepsister Scheme shows us what happened to Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella after their stories ended -- stories that, in this series, are closer to the original Grimm tales than their Disneyfied counterparts.

The novel opens approximately one month after Cinderella's wedding to Prince Charming. After a failed assassination attempt, executed by one of her stepsisters, Princess Danielle Whiteshore learns that her husband, Prince Armand, has been kidnapped by her stepsisters and taken into the fairy realm. Danielle sets out with Princess Talia (Sleeping Beauty) who is highly trained in combat and works for the queen, and Snow White, now a powerful sorceress, to find her husband and bring him home.

The idea of reinventing fairy tales isn't exactly an original one, as the concept of "Fractured Fairy Tales" has been around for a long time. However, Hines goes beyond the tales that we're familiar with and attempts to tell a whole new story with the characters we think we know. The concept is a great one, but Hines rarely goes very far in depth with any particular aspect of the world he's creating. His fairy realm consists of many of the creatures you would expect to find in a world of fairies, but we were really only given glimpses of most of them, with very little back story. Also, choosing "Fairytown" as the name for the main fairy city seemed very unoriginal to me. The main focus of the novel is just on the driving action -- the three princesses on their quest to save the prince. Rarely does the story stray from that to give us any real depth.

I admire Hines' attempt to cast off the girly Disney Princess stereotype and turn these princesses into girls who don't need to sit around and wait to be rescued by Prince Charming. Instead they go out and do the rescuing themselves -- as a product of the Buffy generation I am all about girls kicking butt -- but I wish these characters had been a little more developed. The most character development we see in the entire novel would probably be in Princess Talia. She's the only character who seems to have grown or changed at all from her experiences in the story. Since Danielle seems to be the intended main character and has the most opportunity for growth considering her more humble background, it was disappointing that her character wasn't explored a little more. There was some growth there, but I feel so much more could have been done with her character.

All that being said, this book was not a bad book; it's definitely not one that in the end feels like you wasted part of your life reading. For what it is, this book can be entertaining and at times even amusing. So if you're interested in the genre I wouldn't want to dissuade you from giving it a chance, especially if you're just looking for some light reading. However, I feel its lack of depth and character development hinders its ability to really stand out. So, if you're looking for something a little deeper and more compelling, you may want to look elsewhere. But if you're just looking for something to read on the beach, this may be a great option.

book review by
Charissa Jelliff

3 December 2011

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