“Merrie Haskell’s middle-grade fantasy novel Princess Curse is an imaginative retelling of the fairy tales The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Beauty and the Beast.
In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Sylvania, the prince offers a fabulous reward to anyone who cures the curse that forces the princesses to spend each night dancing to the point of exhaustion. Everyone who tries disappears or falls into an enchanted sleep.
Thirteen-year-old Reveka, a smart, courageous herbalist’s apprentice, decides to attempt to break the curse despite the danger. Unravelling the mystery behind the curse leads Reveka to the Underworld, and to save the princesses, Reveka will have to risk her soul.
Princess Curse combines magic, suspense, humor, and adventure into a story perfect for fans of Gail Carson Levine.” (Goodreads review)
Before I launch into my thoughts about this book, I just want to take a moment and say that I hope I get to meet Merrie Haskell someday.
We both wrote our first stories at the age of seven, we both got BAs in anthropology (mine cultural, hers biological) and we both work in libraries that house a million + books. The fact that she’s written books haled as appropriate for fans of Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale and Karen Cushman (Goodreads) and Karen’s endorsed The Princess Curse, is just frosting on the cake.
I love, love, love Levine, Cushman and Hale (see where I met Shannon Hale), so stumbling upon this book and looking it up on Goodreads (my go-to) and discovering all that praise, well, I was thrilled. I guess it was just one of those serendipitous things that happens sometimes. I really hoped that this book wouldn’t disappoint me and it was so much better than I had hoped. 🙂
This charming story is set in Sylvania (modern-day Romania) and includes some folklore terms thrown in for color involving witches and dragons and ogres.
This is the first fairy tale that I’ve read set in Romania which has a personal connection for me. My parents spent some time there when I was a teen and I remember them trying to teach me a few expressions they’d picked up, such as:
“Cu placere!” (you’re welcome) – sounded like “couple of cherries”
“La revedere! La revedere!” (goodbye) – sounded like “river dairy”
“bine” (good) – sounded like “ben-a”
(Thanks to Linguanaut for a reminder on the spelling)
Expressions aside, Romania has a wonderful culture of folklore and mythology which Haskell references without trouncing out some of the Romanian tropes (no gypsies appear in this book). I’m not read-up on Romanian history but I would guess the setting is some time in the Middle Ages. It certainly has that Karen Cushman feel of when her books are set (ex: The Midwife’s Apprentice) and Haskell doesn’t romanticize the life of Reveka, an herbalist apprentice.
There are elements of classic fairy tales built into Reveka’s story (advertised as ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’) but I would say there’s also elements of ‘Briar Rose’ too. Reveka is a likable enough heroine with plans and dreams of her own but she’s not a 21st century heroine in a medieval setting — an altogether too common error in today’s YA.
Reveka is practical enough to know the ways of the world at thirteen and understand that she would rather be her own mistress than marry and assume the responsibilities of her husband’s trade.
As I’m sure others have pointed out, it will seem odd to think of a thirteen year old pursuing a career (or marriage) when the average marriage age in the USA today is 27 (Atlantic.com). I was 27 when I married actually but when you’re going back hundreds of years…things were different. Life expectancies were shorter. It’s a cultural divide as much as it’s a divide in centuries.
Reveka is old enough to recognize an opportunity so when she hears about the reward for breaking the curse of the dancing princesses, she jumps at the chance. Reveka is drawn into a world of magical and mythological beings and mysteries she must solve at the peril of her own soul.
This book also opens with a great first line:
Three days after my thirteenth birthday, Armas, the Executioner and Chief of Prisons, came for me while I ate breakfast.
Isn’t that great?
Haskell tactfully avoids any romantic entanglements with Reveka (who is, just thirteen) and the men in and around the castle, which would just come across as odd, if not disturbing, to readers. I loved one moment in the book where her master (employer) says of Reveka that she’d no more consider (a certain person) romantically than she would a donkey.
The shadowy figure she meets is an interesting, complex character. There is a lot to explore there and while we do find out more about him, his story is by no means left resolved. The Princess Curse could be a stand-alone book but I hope it won’t remain that way for long. I want to rejoin Reveka’s life and watch her break another curse.
Rating: 4 stars, because I think the concept, author, and story are awesome.