Published: December 17th, 2008
The Stepsister Scheme (Princess #1)
By: Jim C. Hines
You know how all those old fairy tales take you through lots of scary adventures till you finally reach that inevitable line: "And they lived happily ever after..." Guess what? It's not true. Life in never-never land isn't all sweetness and light. Cinderella - whose real name is Danielle Whiteshore (nee Danielle de Glas) - does marry Prince Armand. And (if you can ignore the pidgeon incident) their wedding is a dream-come-true.
But not long after the "happily ever after," Danielle is attacked by her stepsister Charlotte, who suddenly has all sorts of magic to call upon. And though Talia - otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty - comes to the rescue (she's a martial arts master, and all those fairy blessings make her almost unbeatable), Charlotte gets away.
That's when Danielle discovers a number of disturbing facts: Armand has been kidnapped and taken to the realm of the Fairies; Danielle is pregnant with his child; and the Queen has her very own Secret Service that consists of Talia and Snow (White, of course). Snow is an expert at mirror magic and heavy-duty flirting.
Can three princesses track down Armand and extract both the prince and themselves from the clutches of some of fantasyland's most nefarious villains?
I am a fairy tale obsessed, freak! I love retellings of fairy tales - modern ones, retro ones, historical fiction, christian fiction, disneyfied ones, humorous ones, etc. Doesn't really matter what exactly it is, I am bound to be attracted to it, if not drawn in completely. The cover on this book looks a bit like Charlie's Angels crossed with Brothers Grimm, so color me intrigued. I was told by a couple of my online friends to read it, even if just to get to the second one (which they said is better). So I decided to give it a go and see what would happen. Is starts focused on Danielle de Glas (aka Cinderella), who has married the Prince and now has to learn to become a Princess. She still can't help her instinct to befriend all the servants and clean the palace around her though; but she loves her husband, Armand, and is willing to make some changes to be what he needs. Imagine her surprise when her stepsister Charlotte tries to kill her seemingly out of the blue, using magic she's never had before. Danielle is saved from assassination by Queen Bea's secret protector - Talia, otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty. It turns out she and Snow White work for Bea, and help her keep the kingdom and its royals safe from threats. But when they find out Armand has been kidnapped by Charlotte and her sister, it's up to Danielle to rescue him - with the help of Talia and Snow she might even succeed. However, what will the cost be to retrieving Prince Armand from the danger he's in?
I enjoyed this one a lot. At first it feels pretty slow moving (even with an assassination attempt), but once Talia, Danielle and Snow finally hit the road, the plot picks up its pace pretty quickly. Probably my favorite thing about this book is that it uses the darker and older versions of the fairy tales that a lot of people only know from the Disney versions, for the back stories of the characters. Talia's in particular is a real doozy and definitely gives a great basis for her inability to connect emotionally to other people and fondness for solving difficult situations with violent means. Also, the fact that Snow herself worked with mirrors for magical purposes (a la the Evil Queen) was interesting and not something I've ever seen done before in a retelling or reworking of Snow White's story. The lack of Prince Armand was both disappointing and refreshing. So wonderful to see a fantasy/fairy tale book NOT laser-focused on the romance, but considering that Danielle is going to great lengths to save him, it would have been nice to get some more insight into her relationship with Armand (especially considering how little time they've actually known each other when you consider their relationship as a whole).
The entire novel, while revolving around an assassination plot, still managed to feel like it was moving at molasses speed. But when it hit Fairytown, shit really started to hit the fan! I enjoyed them trying to find an ally and since by this point Danielle knows she's pregnant, the whole thing with every fairy asking for the baby in exchange for the help was hilarious! Such a stereotypically fairy tale thing to do! I also really was impressed at how much motivation and character development Hines managed to work in for the Stepsisters (Charlotte and Stacia) who are usually just cardboard cutout villains in any adaptation of Cinderella that's published/filmed. The rescue of Armand and the imprisonment of Danielle are both full of very dark scenes and somewhat disturbing. Especially when we're unsure whether or not the baby is going to come away from the ordeal unscathed. The one complaint (as others have said) that I really can think of besides slowness, is the one dimensionality of Talia and Sleeping Beauty as characters. But by the end of the novel, we've gotten closer to understanding what makes them tick. Also, I have read the second book in the time before I started writing this review and it definitely gives us more meat to those two characters. Overall, I had a swell time trying to figure out where Hines was taking this and I think I'm along for the whole ride.
VERDICT: 4/5 Stars
**No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**