by Jim C. Hines
There is an old story — you might have heard it — about a young mermaid, the daughter of a king, who saved the life of a human prince and fell in love.
So innocent was her love, so pure her devotion, that she would pay any price for the chance to be with her prince. She gave up her voice, her family, and the sea, and became human. But the prince had fallen in love with another woman.
The tales say the little mermaid sacrificed her own life so that her beloved prince could find happiness with his bride.
The tales lie.
I picked this book up a few months ago on a whim and didn't actually get around to reading it until this week. I can honestly say the only reason this book even appealed to me was because of Bill Willlingham's work on Fables and the subsequent spin-off on Cinderella's adventures. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Gregory Maguire's fable-style work too, but my love of the Snow White and Cinderella characters came from Fable (etc). The familiarity of the characters lured me in but Jim Hine's definitely went a different route with his adaptations. He essentially takes the idea of these characters (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid) and makes them entirely his own - Cinderella being the closest to he familiar story - with occasional homages to their fable origins.
The basic premise is in the kingdom of Lorindar Queen Beatrice and King Theodore rule with their son, Prince Armand and his wife, Danielle (aka Cinderella) as their heirs. Snow and Talia (Sleeping Beauty) serve the Queen as she apparently saved both of their lives at one time or another. I'm not going to go into a plot summary as I feel that would give too much away. I will give a general overview of the fable characters as it gives an idea of the plot - enough to let any of you decide whether or not you may enjoy Hine's Princess books.
Cinderella is now Danielle Whiteshore already married to her Prince and with a baby boy named Jakob. Danielle's story is pretty close to the more well known versions of Cinderella - evil step-family, sneaking away to the ball, escaping at midnight, leaving her slipper, the Prince searching her out... you know the tale. She does talk to animals - they don't talk back but they help her out is she asks (to a point, many times she has to convince them). In this version she can get most any animal to help her - for example she asks sharks to protect her ship against the mermaid's at one point. She's a bit like old-school Aquaman in this regard :) There's no fairy godmother though, apparently it was her mother's ghost who helped her escape her step-family.
Snow White is a mirror-magic sorceress. The Queen who tried to have her killed was actually her real mother who seems to have turned on her when she discovered Snow may be more powerful than her. Snow had to kill her mother to escape. Also, she appears to be in her 30s rather than her true age of 19 as a cost for some of the magic she has needed to use. She seems to love her life and revels in new experiences. She is powerful but self-taught. In this book she is taught new magic by a powerful mermaid witch. Most people are unaware she is the Snow White of fame.
Sleeping Beauty goes by Talia and almost no one is aware of her actual identity. I'd say her story is the one the Hine's has changed the most. It's pretty harsh - she was cursed by fairies (and blessed I suppose but she even considers the blessings to be a curse as she is rather sensitive to fairy magic at this point). Of course her fairy gifted grace and dexterity can be used for fighting skill just as easily as dancing and other more princess-y skills. While she was in an enchanted sleep no kiss awoke her - apparently the prince who came took advantage of her instead and she only awoke to the pains of labor. Considering that rather awful experience Talia turned to martial skill as a means of getting revenge on the prince and his family but eventually had to flee her homeland and was given a new home by Queen Beatrice. Talia has fallen in love with Snow but it goes unnoticed and unrequited.
The Little Mermaid (Lirea) is on par with the original story (not the Disney version) in many ways - except Lirea kills the Prince when he won't marry her. She uses a magic dagger which rips out his soul and binds it to her keeping her somewhat alive but not quite human and not quite mermaid. She begins to go mad with the Prince's soul whispering in her mind and kills bother her father and one of her sisters. The main drive of this story involves Lirea trying to find her remaining sister and kill her to secure the throne but Lorindar is protecting the young mermaid. Lirea's story is actually more involved but it's more fun to read the book and figure it out as you go :)
Overall I had a lot of fun reading this book. My one minor complaint is that it jumped around between the different Princess' perspectives. Once you've gotten used to it it's okay but I hate being pulled out of one character's story just when I've gotten interested. This is the second book of this series and I have a feeling it wouldn't have bothered me as much if I had already gotten acclimated to the characters in the original book, A Stepsister Scheme. The third book is coming out in early May (Red Hood's Revenge) and I have ordered both of these already as I'm looking forward to reading more of Hine's work.
Bottom line, if you enjoy Fables I'd be willing to bet you'll enjoy these books too. Also these would make good books for young/teen girls with the strong and diverse female leads.