Rebecca Lickiss,
Never After
(Ace, 2002)

It's a fairy tale with a twist.

Or is it a typographical error?

Never After, the second novel from Rebecca Lickiss, weaves the unraveled threads of several fairy tales into a new pattern. Believe me, it doesn't go in the direction you expect.

The foundation of the tale is "Sleeping Beauty," and that means a sleeping princess. But someone, apparently, misread "a princess" as "3 princes," so when Prince Althelstan comes seeking a bride in an overgrown, enscorcled castle, the situation is not what he expects. There are three princes, assorted royalty, guards and servants, and a beautiful young woman who may or may not be a princess -- all sound asleep -- and a witch who wants to keep them that way. So Althelstan enlists the aid of an adventure-seeking cousin who won't settle quietly into her own princess role, and a trio of mercenary wizards.

The story develops with elements of other fairy tales, such as "Rumpelstiltskin," "The Princess and the Pea" "Cinderella" and "The Frog Prince," but Lickiss bends the rules and throws in plenty of surprises as events unfold. One clever twist is the witch's curse forcing one of the wizards to speak only lines from Shakespeare -- in a world where Shakespeare never existed. (Oddly, the other wizards demonstrate some knowledge of Shakespeare's plays -- it must be a wizardly power we don't know about.)

Never After is a fun, fast read. The conclusion, where all of the varied prince and princess plots threads must find resolution, seems hurried and, by the very end, a bit too neat for my liking, but that's the only hitch and I'll forgive Lickiss because she keeps things so entertaining along the way.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 29 June 2002

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