Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: The Princess Curse - Merrie Haskell

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
Genre: Middle Grade, fairy tale retelling
Published on September 6, 2011
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 328
Read From: 3.25.12 - 3.26.12

Twelve princesses suffer from a puzzling - a downright silly - curse. Ridiculous though the curse may be, whoever breaks it will win a handsome reward. 
Sharp-witted Reveka, an herbalist's apprentice, has little use for princesses, with their snooty attitudes and impractical clothing. She does, however, have use for the reward money, which could buy her a position as a master herbalist. 
But curses don't like to be broken, and Reveka's efforts lead her to deeper mysteries. As she struggles to understand the curse, she meets a shadowy stranger (as charming as he is unsettling) and discovers a blighted land in desperate need of healing. Soon the irreverent apprentice is faced with a daunting choice - will she break the curse at the peril of her own soul?


In many ways, this particular retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses was very different from other ones that I have read. And in many ways, it was not as good as some others. This is the first one I have read where a young girl takes on the challenge, so that she might have money to build herself a life free of masters. And I liked it. Reveka is courageous, intelligent, and ideal for breaking the curse. Even though the princesses, save one, treat her horribly, she does her best to free them of their imprisonment. For once, the story focused more on the rescuer than on the princesses themselves.

But, compared to King Under Stone from Princess of the Midnight Ball or especially Keeper from Entwined, Lord Dragos was not at all terrifying. He lacked the cruelty, the coldness, the intelligence, and the intimidation that the other "sorcerers" have. Yes, he is a giant dragon-man with red skin and horns, but he lacked any sort of malice, or even indifference to human life. I found that I liked Lord Dragos, and not as a villain, but simply as a character. Even though he claimed to kill those people he caught following the princesses, I simply could not see him doing that.

As the story progressed, I saw maybe why the Author did not make Lord Dragos so evil, as the story went from a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses to a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It is hard to sympathize for this proverbial Beast if he is cruel and evil. But I did get the impression that the Reader's initial reaction to Lord Dragos was to be afraid of him, to find him intimidating, and I simply did not. I was, in fact, so un-intimidated that I subconsciously thought that Reveka was overreacting. Which, of course, she really isn't because she strikes a bargain with someone she things is evil, but it's a bit of a problem if a Reader's initial reaction is not to sympathize with the heroine.

Even so, The Princess Curse was very enjoyable and unique. It blends together two very popular fairy tales, ends with the promise of an exciting sequel, and has some rather surprising twists that I was not entirely expecting. Once you get over the fact that Lord Dragos is not some evil sorcerer, it's easy to accept that he is, in fact, a character to be pitied, and the Reader will come to like him a lot. I look forward to seeing what happens next for him and Reveka.

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