I loved this book, absolutely loved it. It’s an object lesson for me, actually, in not pre-judging a book, because this one ticks so many of my ‘no’ boxes: it’s YA, it’s a fairy-tale retelling, it’s first person present tense (“I back away...”, “I gaze at him”), it’s more or less a romance, it’s about a princess who doesn’t quite fit in, it has villains with no redeeming characteristics. Had I known all that beforehand, I would never have touched it and I would have missed a lovely, lovely story. As it was, it popped up on a list of free books, I started reading the sample and just kept reading, couldn’t put it down, in fact.
those who know their fairy tales, this is a reworking of the Goose Girl
story. I didn’t know anything about it, so maybe I missed a few
subtleties, but I felt it worked perfectly well without any prior
knowledge, and apart from a few oddities (like the talking Horse!) there
was nothing in there that couldn't be found in conventional fantasy.
One of the great strengths of this book is that the characters all feel
truly rounded, so even though they are fulfilling traditional roles (the
princess, the prince, the witch and so on) they have great depth and
believable personalities. The villains seem at first glance to be
simplistically cruel and evil, but they all have enough backstory to
make them credible, if not exactly sympathetic.
The magic in the
book is quite powerful, but the fundamentals are explained clearly
enough to be believable, even the talking Horse. The author has thought
everything out very carefully, and it works so well that when the
heroine is rescued by magical means, it makes perfect sense. Not that
she has to be rescued very often, mostly she is perfectly resilient and
self-sufficient, and manages to get herself out of trouble and help
others as well. I liked, too, that the magic is simply an integral part
of life, everyone accepts it and it’s properly regulated. Interestingly,
there is also religion, never explained or central to the plot, but
just there, as a natural and perfectly normal thing. There are also
social customs which are alluded to without full explanations, like a
system of debt between people (if someone helps you out, you owe them a
debt of comparable value). At one point there’s a discussion of a gift,
and whether it incurs an obligation (a debt) or whether it’s just a
gift, freely given, and a decision is reached without any attempt to
explain the ‘rules’ of such an arrangement to the reader. I rather like
this relaxed attitude towards world-building. Some things just are, and
don’t need to be elaborated.
The character of Alyssa, the
princess, is central to the story, naturally, and the first person
narration makes it imperative that she is both likeable and believable. I
feel the author pulls this off magnificently. Of course Alyssa makes
mistakes sometimes, but she copes well with the strange events which
overtake her, and is strong-minded, caring and intelligent without ever
turning into the tedious type of kickass female protagonist so often
depicted in fantasy these days. On the contrary, she often feels
overwhelmed and suffers a great deal, but she always tries to do the
right thing, as far as she can. There is a certain amount of angsting,
but it's actually understandable, given Alyssa's predicament.
plot rattles along very nicely, with some unexpected twists and turns.
There are villains, of course, so bad things happen, but there are also
friends who help out from time to time, just as in real life. Also
realistic is that physical encounters have physical effects - if you
roll down a cliff, for instance, or get beaten up, there will be cuts
and bruises, maybe even broken bones, and time needed to recover. The
climax is a bit of a show-stopper, a wonderful outbreak of magical
manipulation with everything at stake, and no real certainty of how
things will go. And the author neatly side-steps the clichéd ending.
It's a fairy story, so of course good triumphs over evil, but the way
that is achieved is refreshingly different. And there's not the obvious
happy ever after, either. Rather, there's an acknowledgement that a lot
has happened and there are bound to be scars, and a tentative sense of
This book surprised me. It may be YA, but it
addresses some very profound issues, like the nature of justice, the
corroding effect of revenge, questions of loyalty and trust and honesty,
and the inner goodness (or not) of people, regardless of what they look
like, or their rank. The romance element follows a traditional path but
with great originality and commendable restraint. The writing style is
eloquently literate, and I barely noticed the use of first person
present tense. I had a very few minor quibbles - there were a few places
early on where I wasn't clear about relationships or what exactly was
happening - but nothing major enough to spoil my enjoyment. A terrific
read. Five stars.