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review 2015-10-30 23:13
Review: The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
The Princess Curse - Merrie Haskell

This was a fun take on the Twelve Dancing Princesses story, also combining the Beauty and the Beast and the myth of Hades and Persephone. What first caught my attention was the fact the "savior" of the 12 princesses is a 13-year-old girl rather than the traditional older male soldier, although Haskell gives a nod to the original tale with Reveka's father. It's miles more fun because of it and brought to mind some of the reasons I fell in love with fantasy at a young age: there's no way a spunky, just-turned-teenager could save an entire kingdom in reality, but in the world of a fairy tale, she definitely can.

And Reveka is sheer delight as a protagonist--funny, kindhearted, brave and passionate, without the stereotypically low self-esteem that plagues female characters of YA and MG.

Who could have stolen my cap? Who would have? Who even knew about it? When I found out who'd stolen it, I'd wipe his mother's grave with my dirty socks!


Also entertainingly snarky, without beating you over the head with it:

"Oh," Mithas said. His jaw dropped open, and I thought I was going to be treated to another long view of the interior of his mouth--when he lifted his pie and took a big bite. He stared at me, chewing. Just like a cow chewing its cud.


(Not sure if it works without context, but you get the point.)

Narrative strengths? Haskell excels at foreshadowing, like the scene of a mysterious man in the forest dropping blossoms into the river. Hints are woven into the atmospheric fabric of the fairy tale, and continue to tease the reader even after the principal turning point of the story has passed

when Reveka offers to marry the zmeu.

(spoiler show)

A common thing in fairy tale retellings I look for--or at least have come to expect--is that sense of familiarity when you read a beloved story, waiting for all the events to roll out, preferably with an authorial twist. Haskell does more than that especially with the setting, playing off the different myths so that nothing is what you predict it is, yet still feels inspired by the original tales she draws upon.

Surprisingly for an MG book, this story does have the theme of child marriage. It's very tastefully done though, without harping on it too long or, conversely, trying to normalize it to the point that it's inappropriately skewed. Part of it is through acknowledgement that a normal human entering the world of myths is definitely going to result in some funky deals (who isn't a little creeped out by the idea of Persephone marrying her uncle in the old Greek myth, after all?), and part of it is through jokes. It's hard to explain without mentioning specifics, but suffice to say it was a fascinating exploration of character without (and this is what I love about fairy tales) any unneeded, extraneous attention to the nitty gritty implications of such an arrangement especially as it is, after all, made in the context of magic spells.

Overall this is a tightly plotted, well paced story that also isn't condensed to the point that it feels rushed. One quibble I have is that the 12 princesses aren't very fleshed out characters and are fairly indistinguishable aside from two or three of them. Another thing I have to complain about is that this story feels incomplete without a certain character's

Dragos's

(spoiler show)

 full backstory. It seems like a cheat to hinge so much of his character on it, then refuse to tell us even a smidgeon. Perhaps this was the right choice though; I can do without angsty tortured backstories for once, and in all honesty, it worked out--mostly my personal nitpicking coming into play here.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-07-19 00:52
The Princess Curse - Merrie Haskell

Reveka is a 13 year old girl who after being raised since she was very young in a convent has recently been reunited with her soldier father, who is the kings gardener to the Prince of Sylvania. Now they live at the castle Sylvian and she is an herbalists apprentice.

 

When she is summoned to the Princess consort to explain why her 12 stepdaughters all ended up smelling like cabbage after their bath,she confesses that she sprinkled some herbs in there hoping to break the princesses curse.

Even if she thinks its a silly curse

And it was a silly curse, wasn’t it? Every morning, the princesses left their tower bedroom, exhausted, with their shoes in tatters..

...and every night the twelve princesses Maricara Nadia ,Tereza,Ruxandra,Rada Lacrimora,Viorica, and Otilia go to bed and in the morning their slippers are worn right through but they wont reveal where they have been or what they have been doing to ruin their shoes.

 

To further complicate matters Sylvania is a small kingdom and surrounded by other more powerful neighbours and some of them have started believe that the curse the princesses are under is nothing more than a political ploy.

 

Especially as everyone who has tried to find out what the princesses were doing in their chambers has fallen into a deep sleep and the emissaries from the neighbouring kingdom who were sent to try and break the curse has vanished into thin air.

 

The Prince ,Vasile has declared that anyone who can break the curse will be richly rewarded and Reveka badly wants the money so she can set up her own herbarium.

 

This is as must be apparent a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" yet none of them are the heroine of the book. Its Reveka,the 13 year old herbalists apprentice and she was great main character to follow. She had plenty of wits but was not entirely perfect,and she struggles with her newfound relationship with her father Konstantin.

 

They are developing something of a connection but I am not sure I liked how Revekas father Konstantin told her how he couldnt even remember her mothers face.

 

I was expecting this to be a bit childish but to my pleasant surprise it showed great depth not only when it came to characters but also when it came to the plot as things are far from black and white and...

in a way I felt the princesses themselves were as much a threat as any beast or invading army! They are not the only ones affected by the curse and yet they remain so secretive and refuse to do the one thing that will free their sisters,wake the sleepers and keep Sylvania from being torn apart by war.

 

Its also very interesting how the author has put the story in an actual historical time (even if Sylviana as a country is entirely made up) as opposed to most fairytales tend to take place in once-upon-a-time land.

 

Revekas father for example used to be a soldier for Vlad Tepes and one of the rulers who are just waiting for their chance to invade is Matthias Corvinus.

The book also touches on a sensitive subject,altough it doesnt explore it in detail. There is nothing explicit just mentioning it.

 

Namely that of girls marrying very young,so I was very glad that the issue with marriage was brought up and one concern put to rest when Reveka is fretting about it and told by Dragos that he believes while many girls marry early there is no consummation until years later..

But Princess consort Daciana was also married when very young and I am not sure the Prince Vasile was so chivalrous or decent :/

 

This is the first time I have heard of the zmeu and even before he appears its in the story it in the tapestry of the maiden about to be abducted by a fearsome zmeu

The bit where Reveka remarks on how the girls in the stories never get the hint and then she herself didnt catch on to the clues about Lord Dragos.Yeah that was a bit funny.

 

In the stories, you always know who the zmeu is; the storytellers always say he’s charming and friendly and looks like an ordinary man, but they also drop hints so broad that you can’t help but think the girl is stupid for not knowing.

 

I caught a flash of red and black in the shadows near the Little Well. It was Frumos—the strange man from the woods. He was less handsome than I remembered, and he was younger than I remembered, too. “The herbalist’s apprentice,” Frumos said slowly. “Remind me of your name?” I tried not to mind that he’d forgotten me, even though I remembered every detail of him, from the ugly tusks on his cloak clasp to the way his eyes smiled more than his mouth. I said, “If you can’t remember my name, then I won’t remind you.”

.

 

 

It has the right fairytale quality to the writing there is even a handsome (but Reveka thinks he is simpleminded) cowherder by the name of Mihas who goes around with his mouth hanging open

 

When the setting changed to the underworld I felt the story lost a bit of its pacing when it started involving less of the folklorical elements and instead crossed over to the greek pantheon mainly because I felt the Persephone story has been done so many times before and didnt feel as fresh and inventive as the rest of the book. But still towards the end of the book it picked up some of what it had before.

 

The book is labeled as a middle grade book but I think its also a good read for adults and I get the feeling that this is one of those books that you can read when young but appreciate the darker and more complex bits when you re-read it as an adult.

 

The story but left me wishing there was a sequel. In fact there must be a sequel because otherwise how will the author account for all the sequel baits in this book.

 

Get to writing ;)

 

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review 2015-07-14 12:33
Give me more
The Princess Curse - Merrie Haskell
4.5 stars... that will turn into a five star rating, once I have the sequel in my hands...

That is not to say that this ends with a cliffhanger. No, the story in this book is mostly properly resolved, especially the part about "The twelve dancing Princesses" retelling.
As for "Beauty and the Beast"?
We only get about two thirds of it, and having loved this story _ and its characters _ of course I want something more.

There's not much I can say without spoiling the story, so I'll just say this:
I loved the fact that the setting in which the plot takes place feels real. Very middle age, and as such the reality isn't sugared. This was a time of wars and famine.

The fact that Reveka_ despite being thirteen years old _ acts as someone much more mature than someone in our time would, because times were different. She goes about her chores without complaints or woes.

I loved the characters characterization: From Reveka, to her father _ not forgetting Dragos of which I want to know so much more _ it all felt realistic enough.

And last, I loved the writing!
Maybe because even though this tries to be middle grade it has an undeniable darker tone, that wouldn't be misplaced in an adult story.

For me the only thing that needs improving is the cover which for me is just too juvenile.
 
 
 
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text 2015-07-12 13:15
Small excerpt
The Princess Curse - Merrie Haskell

"I jumped when the door banged open and Pa’s voice asked, “Have you seen Mihas? He hasn’t been around all day.”
“No, I haven’t seen your apprentice,” Brother Cosmin answered.
“Wait—where’s Reveka? Did she go off with him?”
“Go off with him?” Brother Cosmin repeated, sounding surprised.
Pa’s voice was grim. “He’s got something of a crush on her.”
I buried my face in my hands. Why did Pa know this?
“Why would you think that means she’d go off with him?” Brother Cosmin asked.
A good question, Brother Cosmin! Why would Pa think that I’d be interested in a cowherd’s stupid crush and take up a dalliance with the boy—to the point of neglecting my work and letting Mihas neglect his? Now, granted, I was neglecting my work, and Mihas was one of the reasons, but this was life or death, not a crush.
“I don’t think you need to worry about that,” Brother Cosmin said. “She’s about as interested in Mihas as she is in my donkey.
Which is to say she might stoop to giving him mashed juniper berries for his colic, but that’s about all the notice she pays either of them.”
I never realized Brother Cosmin understood me so well. Though I had to say I liked his donkey better than I liked Mihas, even though Old Magar tended to bite.
“She spends most of her time dreaming about her nunnery, in fact,” Brother Cosmin added. “I don’t know if she’s ever noticed any man about the castle.”
Well, I argued in my head, I notice men. I just wasn’t particularly impressed by any of them. Except for—
No. I wasn’t going to think about him. And he wasn’t “about the castle,” no matter where his shadow diplomacy had brought him today.
“Let me know if you see her,” Pa said.
Brother Cosmin said mildly, “Well, she’s upstairs in the loft, dealing with a slight ague and probably listening to every ridiculous word you’re speaking.”
There was a silence from below, which I interpreted as mortified. I stuffed my half-finished cap under my apron, pinned the netting needle to my sleeve, and waited.
Pa’s head poked up over the edge of the loft.
“Sorry,” he said grumpily.
I shrugged.
“Do you need anything?”
I shook my head.
“Hope you feel better soon,” he said, and disappeared.
I flopped back on my pallet and wondered why it was we had fathers, anyway.

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quote 2015-07-08 21:15
The Princess had spies? I was impressed. I wanted spies.
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