Originally, fairy tales were dark and grim, not the light, bubbly Happily Ever After stories we all know and love in these modern times. Jim C. Hines pulled obscure versions of fairy tales you might not be familiar with when creating his four Princess novels. For example, one version of Cinderella that he found revolves around a plot where the stepsister attempts to assassinate Cinderella. He pulls from Sun, Moon, and Talia, one of the darkest versions of Sleeping Beauty. Etc., etc. The best thing about reading the first book in his series, The Stepsister Scheme, was finding all the obscure tales and trying to figure out what was based on fact and what came from his own imagination. I have yet to finish The Mermaid’s Madness or begin Red Hood’s Revenge (or the upcoming finale, The Snow Queen’s Shadow), so this review won’t talk about any future books. I anticipate seeing quite a bit of old lore in the series as a whole, however.
The Stepsister Scheme starts out innocently enough. As you might guess based on the title, the main character is Cinderella, who has married her prince and is now living Happily Ever After. Or is she? Despite her newfound glamour, Danielle still has the heart of a cinder girl and is always trying to figure out how to clean things. She’s also overly polite. At first, her character is very weak, but she develops in a fantastic fashion over the course of the novel. I loved watching her evolve. After her stepsister attempts to assassinate her and her husband, Prince Armand, is kidnapped, Danielle slowly begins to grow a backbone. She’s helped along this route by the Queen, who has a secret service consisting of Talia (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow (Snow White). Together, the trio of princesses head for fairy land to get Armand back as a sinister plot unfolds.
I loved seeing princesses, who are often perceived as weak, as strong characters here. These are the female role models Disney princesses can only dream of one day becoming. At first, I didn’t care much for Talia. She’s a prickly princess with a huge chip on her shoulder. As Hines unveils her horrifying tale, however, it’s easy to see why she has become so closed-off. It’s also interesting to note that she’s gay, which adds an additional dimension to her story. Snow, on the other hand, is easy to love. She’s by far the most interesting character, in my opinion, though I do love all three princesses. She’s a huge flirt, but upon a closer look, there are many more facets to her than anyone else. She wields powerful magic through her mirrors and is one of those girls who looks gentle and fragile, but can break your neck before you have a chance to so much as blink. She also has a heartbreaking story in her background that we eventually learn about.
Overall, this series is shaping up to be fantastic. Initially, I was thrown off by the covers, but I’m glad I didn’t judge the books based on them. I would have missed a special fantasy series. I can’t wait to throw myself into The Mermaid’s Madness, which is based on The Little Mermaid, one of my favorite fairy tales. Hines has generously provided the first chapter on his website for everyone to read!
As I mentioned earlier, these aren’t my favorite covers. They look very staged and seem geared toward a male audience. Then again, they also fit the genre, as most sci-fi/fantasy novels tend to have understated covers. The blurb is also misleading. As much as I love Esther Friesner, I don’t think the three princesses are really a match for Charlie’s Angels. Snow is the only one who looks at all the way I expect her to. Then again, based on the cover and her pose, she reminds me a lot of the character Ty Lee from Avatar: The Last Airbender; even her book personality matches up. I could easily see her after making this connection. My favorite cover of the four is for The Snow Queen’s Shadow, coming out July 5th.
Check out today's FTF Event Schedule!