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A True Princess Hardcover – 1 Feb 2011
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While she reworked a fairy tale into a fantasy novel before, Zahler does something slightly different in her second novel "A True Princess" -- she blends together two different fairy tales into one delicately-wrought fantasy story, and then drapes it with some Germanic/Norse folklore. It's a charming, cleverly-written little story that succeeds in surprising you.
As a baby, Lilia was found in the river, and was raised by a kindly farmer... until his selfish, spiteful second wife decides to sell her off to the miller. So Lilia decides to run away from home, and is accompanied by her foster siblings Kai and Karina, who don't like their stepmother either. But they soon run into trouble -- the Elf King and his hauntingly beautiful, bratty daughter.
Unfortunately Kai is magically entranced by the Elf King's daughter, and Karina and Lilia can't get him to leave with them. The Elf King will release Kai, but only if he is brought the cloak clasp of Odin himself. So Karina and Lilia must go undercover in a nearby kingdom, whose prince is running a mysterious contest to find a bride with royal blood... and it reveals something shocking about Lilia's past.
As you've probably guessed, "A True Princess" is one part "Snow Queen," one part "The Princess and the Pea," one part "Der Erlkönig" and one small part Norse mythology. And it's a testament to Zahler's skill that she is able to weave together these different stories into one seamless whole. You wouldn't know they were from different stories unless you were already familiar with them.
Lilia is also a really likable heroine -- she's smart, unselfish, gutsy and loyal, and her dreams add an element of mystery to her character. Karina is a little more "ordinary," but she's just as gutsy and sweet as Lilia, and despite Kai being absent for more than half the book, he and the lovelorn Prince Tycho are solid love interests. And it's interesting to see the "snow queen" character as a bratty, grasping child-woman
And Zahler's writing is truly lovely -- delicately wrought and full of jewel-toned descriptions ("She moved with the sway of a willow, and she wore a dress of willow green, made of a material silkier and more flowing than any I knew") and smooth, natural-sounding dialogue. The only problem is the assumption that any "true" princess" cannot be ill-mannered or unattractive. Just sayin'.
"A True Princess" is a lovely little book that blends myth, poetry and fairy tales into one delicayely-drawn fantasy novel. Definitely a delight.
I love a good fairy tale, and have even had a few of my own published. Because I care so much about classical fairy tales, I always view modern reinterpretations of older fairy tales with a mix of anticipation and nervousness. Still, the anticipation usually wins out, and I was excited to hear about A True Princess.
A review copy arrived from HarperCollins the day before yesterday, and I can honestly say I was entranced. The book looks even better in hand than it does online, what that wonderful read-me-now quality. Fortunately, this charming and exciting book by Diane Zahler lives up to its promise.
In fairy tale fashion, the story starts with 12-year-old Lilia overhearing her cruel stepmother threatening to send her to work for the away, but things change rapidly as Lilia takes matters into her own hands and runs away first. Like many of the best early fantasy stories, Lilia is a strong and independent girl, though not without her weaknesses. Girls of around this age will love her spirit and smarts, and boys will love the scenes with the Elf King and the dreadful Odin.
While the story uses the core of the Princess and the Pea, which makes certain parts a little predictable, there are different stories woven together, and the romantic entanglements are more complex than they appear at first, although all both satisfying and age-appropriate. Who will get the Prince? How will they vanquish the Elf King? Fortunately, the book is not too long, as kids are likely to beg to stay up and keep reading it.
I would recommend this strongly for girls, and for boys who like mythical adventures and fairy tales. It is aimed well at 9-12 year-olds, although I think it would have a lot of appeal for strong readers who are a little younger as well.
Incidentally, Diane Zahler has written one other fairy tale retelling, The Thirteenth Princess, based loosely on "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," which I am now eager to read. Hers is a name to watch for exciting fairy tale fantasy.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The plot was simple, but had enough to it to keep the reader turning pages. You can definitely tell it's a retelling of the Princess and the Pea, but it has enough to it that it doesn't have to depend on that aspect. I also thought it was clever how the "True Princess" stuff is incorporated.
The only thing I didn't like was the dialogue, which felt stiff and awkward. I think the author was trying to make it sound like what you'd imagine fairy tale characters would sound like, but it didn't flow as it should've.
The characters were all enjoyable to read. Each and every one was unique and kept me interested. Lilia was a strong character, not afraid to embark on a journey to find out who she is. Those who accompanied her made for wonderful companions. I found the romances going on kind of strange *spoiler*(Kai and Lilia? I saw theirs as a brother/sister relationship... )