This is a story about a bunch of princes. I know, I know. Male protagonists are, by and large, pretty boring. It was only my love of fairytale retellings that made me pick up this book — and then I was hooked. The book starts in sort of a weird way, addressing you (the reader) and telling you that in Chapter 20 there will be a bar brawl. This sets the tone for the rest of the book: the narrator occasionally goes back and forth with his narration, makes snarky asides, or accidentally on purpose spoils a future plot point. I’m generally not a fan of books that use this you-the-reader approach, but in this case it works perfectly. I felt like a little child that was being told a story and I was completely immersed in the book from the start.
I’m happy to report that our four Prince Charmings (Frederic, Gustav, Liam and Duncan) are not boring at all. They all have distinct personalities and different ways of being heroes and (gasp!) character growth. Not going to lie, I might be a little in love with Frederic, and Gustav’s character arc is one of the most satisfying I’ve read in a long while, let alone in a children’s book. Even better: the princes take center stage, but the princesses are far from forgotten. There are good princesses and nasty princesses and brave princesses and princesses who are kinda weird. One of my favourites is Princess Lila, Liam’s little sister, who doesn’t like etiquette lessons and would rather read books on alchemy and dissect animals. But, instead of cutting her hair and dressing like a tomboy and throwing tantrums, she uses her looks to manipulate her parents and get out of being grounded for un-princessy behaviour. And the witch! The witch, guys! Given that she’s a fairytale villain, she’s got one hell of a motivation: she was called “witch” and mocked because she was an old and ugly woman, so she went and studied magic for real so everyone would remember her name. Not going to lie, I liked the heroes but I was also secretly rooting a little for the witch.
The humour is really nice, I was reading this in public and I just couldn’t keep this huge happy smile off my face. It’s the kind of humour that appeals to kids, but if you read it as an adult you like it even better because of the hidden references and the dark undertones. It’s a really interesting deconstruction of fairytales and gender roles, and it managed to subvert all of my expectations. Despite the fact that you know good will prevail, because it’s a children’s book, there are enough plot twists to keep you hooked because you have no idea what will happen next. I was shocked when I finished the ebook and realized it was over 400 pages long, because I’d simply devoured it.
The wonderful illustrations by Todd Harris complete the magic, giving a face to all the princes and princesses and other creatures. If I wasn’t already giving this book five out of five, I would give it an extra teacup just for the illustrations. The ending was also perfect. The characters learned some lessons about friendship but in the end they all stayed true to themselves instead of changing to fit other people’s expectations. In the first few chapters I was afraid that, since there were four princes and four princesses who did not seem to get on with their intended, everyone would simply fall in love with someone else and they’d trade fiancees. Shortly after it became apparent that this wouldn’t be the case, and in fact the ending leaves things very open and doesn’t have a traditional HEA in which everyone gets married to their twu wuv. Some princes are happily married, some princes might be falling in love, some princes don’t even have a love interest. I liked that a lot.
I liked it so much, now I’m afraid that I will like the sequels less if book #3 does end with a HEA. But in the meantime, I’m going to daydream about princes and dragons and bar brawls for a long while.