The Princess Curse
by Merrie Haskell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Princess Curse / 978-0062008138
Here is what you need to know about "The Princess Curse": I started the book a little after dinner one evening, and ended staying up till after midnight to finish this addictive and satisfying story.
"The Princess Curse" manages to seamlessly blend the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses with the Persephone myth, and does so in a way that is truly intriguing. I am enormously impressed with Haskell's elaborate world-building as well as with her ability to deal out gripping (and often delightfully creepy) details about the curse as the novel progresses.
I am also deeply pleased with the characterization in this novel; even the "bad" characters are complex and if not sympathetic then at least understandable. And the heroine and her interactions with others is delightful: it's very nice to see Haskell's dialogue unfold organically, and to have a main character who understands how to maunevre herself thoughtfully through socially fraught conversations. For every reader who has hated Big Misunderstanding plot-twists and has wanted characters to just talk and think things out a little more, here is a novel that does that very thing.
Another nice detail is that the protagonist Reveka is an herbalist's apprentice, and this shines through every time she's on the page. She has a real passion for her craft, she thinks in terms of herbs and remedies, and she approaches problems like a professional solving a puzzle. It's wonderful to have a protagonist who is truly unique from all the blank 'reader insert' characters out there -- you may not be much like Reveka, but I can almost guarantee you will find her interesting and likable.
I also absolutely love that there are more female characters than male ones in this novel, and despite this being a novel with a 'historical setting', there isn't really a huge heap of sexism on display every five minutes. Instead, there are powerful women in the novel -- an Abbess, a herb-wife, a witch, an herbalist's apprentice, a Princess Consort, etc. -- who are powerful because they are clever and intelligent and because the men around them are willing and able to recognize their talents and give them space to use them. It's really wonderful to read a 'historical' setting which acknowledges that, okay, yeah, sexism exists while still giving its female characters room to be awesome and letting its male characters be sensible about the situation rather than being enormous jerks every five minutes for no good reason. More of this, please.
If there is a place where this novel falls down a little, it is perhaps the ending. (Minor spoilers ahead.) I like that the ending is happy, but in places it feels a little too cozy and a little too unfinished. There's actually a line that sounds a lot like the old "and that's how I spent my summer vacation" stereotypical ending for old books and films which weren't sure quite how to wrap things up. And there are a number of dangling minor plot holes, which I'm not sure were avoidable given the specific myths involved, but which kind of niggle at your brain an hour after putting the book down. But I feel kind of picky enjoying an exquisite 5-course dinner only to harp that the dessert course was a bit short and a little too sweet.
If you enjoy fairy tale re-imaginings, and particularly if you enjoyed the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses (a particular favorite of mine), I believe you will think "The Princess Curse" was worth the read. In spite of the occasional little plot hole or hiccup in the narrative, the overall writing style is fresh and evocative, and the final product is a tale that manages to be dark in the telling but bright in the resolution.
[Content Notes (Spoilery!): Some ableist terminology which may be intended as deconstructive; blood and bleeding feet; some mention of torture in the context of iron shoes; kidnapping, Stockholm Syndrome romances, and underage marriages (but no sexual content, and an explicit-and-tactful denial that underage sex is taking place); comatose patients; religious themes involving witchcraft, paganism, and immortal souls and their possible salvation/damnation; minor discussion of siege warfare; some discussion of abusive orphanage upbringing.]
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll