Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Review: The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines
Series: Princess #1
Genre: Fantasy
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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 pigeon 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?
"Sometimes the stories are wrong."

Happily ever after…Well, not quite.

This book is what happens when both the stories are wrong and they don't live happily ever after. These girls are kind of the anti-damsel-in-distress. They can fight and, I believe the term is, kick but and take names.

Seriously, this book was so much fun.

Not only is there a strong feminist aspect to this - and it totally slams the Bechdel Test out of the park - but there is also a bit of racial diversity. Talia, Sleeping Beauty herself, is described as having 'brown skin.' I kind of like how it's mentioned and then moved on, not waxed poetic about how her skin is the color of creamed coffee - or caramel. It's just 'brown.'

There's also some pretty obvious hints that one woman is in love with another, as the kiss of true love works. So, yay for diversity!

"Are all the tales like this? Did Jack Giantslayer fall into despair and poverty? Was Red Riding Hood murdered by wolves seeking revenge for the death of their kin?"

It probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone anymore that I really adore fairytale retellings. There's just something about them that…Well, I can't explain it.

But I do like the particularly twisty ones. I don't want to read a simple tale that's an exact copy of what came before - and I also have a special fondness for after the 'happily ever after' tales. I've always felt that the story says the princess kisses the prince and that's it. Full stop. The story's over and everything will be wonderful for the rest of their lives. But what really happens?

I will admit, I'm always suspicious when a male author writes a book with a female main character. I've been burnt too many times by overly sexy, voyeuristic trash. So, when there's not one, but three pretty young women on the cover all looking like they just went to a Final Fantasy convention, color me nervous. (Not picking at FF. I love it, but really?) But then I started reading this book and, through no fault of my own, stumbled across Jim's blog. (To get an idea of exactly what kind of author he is, click here. That'll get you started but be sure to click on the links. Seriously, this guy is awesome! Now, once you come out of that rabbit hole…)

The characters in this book are awesome! I love how so many of them are women - not just the princesses, but also several women in positions of power.

Although the story is told exclusively from Danielle's perspective, my favorites were Talia and Snow - who are so different from each other. Talia is the strong, warrior type woman that has been hurt terribly in the past. Snow, on the other hand, is a unmitigated flirt. She knows she's beautiful and she flaunts it. Compared to these two, Danielle feels a little…flat. She's great, and has wonderful moments, but her personality was more understated it seems like than the other two. (She's kind of your typical main character in fantasy ensemble casts. The 'normal' one.)

One of my absolute favorite things was how the story went with some of the older tales for certain aspects, instead of the Disney versions. Totally spoilers, but there were several moments of 'oh, that was in the original' or 'that's not how it was' only to find out later that that's how the earlier tales were.

I am so glad I took a chance on this book and, if you like strong women and fairy tales, you should give it a shot!