Book reviews: A passel of princess books re-imagine the genre for appeal

Published: Sunday, May 24 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Think princesses are just for little girls?

Think again.

This spring, a number of new books re-imagine the genre, showing there's much more to being a princess than frilly dresses and tiaras.

Among the new releases are two intriguing books by Utah authors, featuring a new take on the classic fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and a sequel to a tale where humans and animals can switch places. A Cinderella-type story and a modern play on the "Prince and the Pauper" round out the selections.

"PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL" by Jessica Day George, Bloomsbury, 288 pages, $16.99

Who knew dancing slippers could cause such a problem?

Twelve sisters — beautiful princesses with talent and grace — seemingly have everything they could ever want. But they are hiding an awful secret, one that is making them sick and threatening to destroy their kingdom.

A curse is forcing the sisters to dance each night for the wicked King Under Stone. His magic stretches far, keeping a tight hold on what the sisters can say and do.

King Gregor is desperate to discover what is happening to his daughters. He enlists the help of visiting princes to solve the mystery. But when each one fails and then dies, he gives in and lets a palace gardener named Galen have a try.

A former soldier, Galen has a keen mind and a strong resolve. In him, the princesses find a chance for freedom and love.

In the talented hands of Brigham Young University graduate Jessica Day George, this classic story of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" becomes more than a simple fairy tale.

Though "Midnight Ball" starts out a little slowly, George quickly finds a rhythm that's both enjoyable and fast-paced.

And despite the princess on the cover and the title, this book will appeal to both sexes. George spends equal time following Galen and the princesses, making it part adventure, part mystery and part romance.

"THE PRINCESS AND THE BEAR" by Mette Ivie Harrison, Harper Teen, 336 pages, $17.99

Magic runs deep throughout the land in which a hound lives. Having spent a year in human form as a princess, something she found awkward and confusing, she's ecstatic to return to the forest in her natural state.

Once in the forest, she forms a bond with an unlikely companion — a 200-year-old bear. The bear is really a prince who was transformed by a wild man as punishment for bad deeds.

When it is discovered that an evil force is ridding the land of both life and magic, the two are sent back in time to the place where magic went astray.

Now in human form, the pair must work together to set things right while fighting against insecurities buried deep within.

In her follow-up to "The Princess and the Hound," Utah author Mette Ivie Harrison has created both a sequel and a stand-alone book. Those who have read Harrison's earlier work will surely find nuances, but enough background is provided to clarify any questions a new reader might have.

Harrison has created a world where a princess doesn't have to be perfect and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. "The Princess and the Bear" is a magical journey that sparks the imagination.

"THE AMARANTH ENCHANTMENT" by Julie Berry, Bloomsbury, 320 pages, $16.99

Beautiful dresses, a large home, servants, a carriage and loving parents. Lucinda doesn't have to imagine what those things are like; she remembers them. But that life was a long time ago, before her parents died and left her an orphan.

Since that time, she's lived with her uncle, working in his jewelry shop under the stern eye of her step-aunt. Her life is miserable, and there seems little chance of that changing.

The arrival of a mysterious woman and a handsome young man shake up the routine, though, and before Lucinda knows what's happening, her whole world is turned upside down — again.

It turns out the woman is the Amaranth Witch, and the man is none other than the prince, who Lucinda had known as a child.

The exposure of family secrets, a villainous traitor, magical surprises and eventually a ball test Lucinda's courage as she searches for her place in happily-ever-after.

"Amaranth Enchantment" has obvious nods to "Cinderella," without taking them too far. Author Julie Berry uses it as a jumping-off place to create an original tale that has just as much heart as the classic.

It's not without its flaws, stuttering in a few places, but Berry's characters are believable and interesting. "Amaranth" is a strong start for a debut novel.

"THE PRINCESS PLOT" by Kirsten Boie, The Chicken House, 400 pages, $17.99

Don't let the skulls on the cover and inside liner of "The Princess Plot" scare you away. This tale of mistaken identities is more interesting than the accompanying artwork leads the reader to believe.

Jenna is in the running for the starring role in a movie about a princess. She's been flown to the land of Scandia for a final audition, which includes impersonating a real-life princess, Malena.

Jenna can't believe her luck, but something doesn't feel right. Things aren't what they seem. Malena has gone missing, and government officials don't want the public to find out.

Suddenly Jenna finds herself in the middle of a rebel plot to usurp the monarchy. Surrounded by questionable characters, Jenna must figure out whom to trust, and fast. Her life and the safety of a country are depending on it.

Full of twists and turns mixed with political intrigue, "Plot" is a surprisingly fast read at 400 pages. However, with armed gunmen, kidnappings and bombings, the publisher's suggested reader age of 9-12 seems a bit young. Parents might want to read this one first to gauge the level of intensity for themselves.

E-mail: jharrison@desnews.com

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