I’ve heard Jim Hines’ Princess novels described as “Disney Princesses meet Charlie’s Angels”, and yeah, that’s pretty much right on the money. Say what you will about the Disneyfied versions of fairy tales–but okay, yeah, I have a soft spot for them as well as the original tales from which they sprang. So plowing into a series that draws elements from both forms of the classic tales was deeply satisfying indeed.
In this particular fantasy universe, all the traditional fairy tales we know and love actually happen in one form or another. And in this universe, “Cinderella” is known as Danielle Whiteshore, who’s just married her beloved prince. But when her stepsisters try to assassinate her in revenge, she discovers to her amazement that her mother-in-law, Queen Beatrice, has two seemingly unobtrusive “servants” whose stories are every bit as renowned as hers: Talia, a.k.a. “Sleeping Beauty”, and the young witch Snow, who is of course “Snow White”. Talia and Snow are entrusted with not only defending Danielle and teaching her to fight, but helping her rescue her husband as well.
Danielle, Talia, and Snow are all wonderfully realized characters, and in particular I very much liked how Talia comes from a culture that’s clearly Arabic in design as opposed to the more typical European-flavored cultures that usually show up in fantasy novels–including, well, this one. Her backstory is hands down the darkest of the three, though, and a far, far cry from Disney’s Princess Aurora, that’s for sure. I get great amounts of glee though thinking of “Sleeping Beauty” as the fiercest warrior in Beatrice’s entire kingdom.
The only place the book felt a bit shaky to me though was that for all the truly excellent women in this story, Danielle’s husband felt like an afterthought and got barely any camera time at all. The fact that I can’t even remember the poor guy’s name even as I write this is probably a testament to how little presence he actually had in the story, which was mildly disappointing to me given that his kidnapping is what drives most of the plot. I’m all for girl power in my fantasy novels, but not at the total expense of the boys! (Fortunately, Hines improves on this later on in the series, and both Danielle’s husband and her father-in-law become better developed characters.)
Still though, very strong start to a very strong series. Four stars.