By Guest Writer, Liz Fisher
Jim C. Hines’ The Princess Series is a positive spin on women centric, familiar fairytales. The series consists of four books: The Stepsister Scheme, The Mermaid’s Madness, Red Hood’s Revenge, and The Snow Queen’s Shadow. Each is full of action, mystery, darkness, and humor. The books also boast three main characters who are smart and skilled women with honor and integrity who are willing to sacrifice in order to protect their kingdom and the greater good. A review by Michael Jones at The Green Man Review says that Hines “brilliantly remixes fairy-tale elements with a modern action/adventure sensibility, as if the Brothers Grimm had been allowed to watch a 'Charlie's Angels' marathon." It’s an apt description.
Many of the stories are dark and quite twisted but the characters approach life and their tough jobs with a sense of humor and always a sense of loyalty and love for one another. Snow (Snow White), Talia (Sleeping Beauty), and Danielle (Cinderella) form a special forces of sorts working for Queen Bea. Talia is a tough, often to a fault, woman ‘gifted’ with powers by the fairies. Snow is a shameless flirt with a talent for magic that she sometimes pushes too far. And Danielle, the newest member of their group, is a loyal and steady presence who has a gift for communing with animals. All three are rich and complex characters. Each is damaged in her own way because of what she’s been through. None of the main characters have lived the happy Disney version of their fairy-tales.
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They’ve all been hurt and mistreated many times by people who were supposed to love and protect them. Furthermore, the series doesn’t shy away from that reality. In fact, these books spend much of their time in the dark corners of fairytales that the familiar Disney versions gloss over or ignore altogether. But rather than be defeated by anything they’ve suffered, each of the main characters chooses to focus on saving and protecting others. There’s also plenty of humor to break things up, especially in the banter between the three heroes. A flashback of Snow and Talia’s first meeting ends with a slightly bloodied Snow declaring, "If she's going to stay, we need rules about not punching me in the face.”
In addition to three heroines who can more than hold their own in a fight, the series also boasts some memorable foes like Lirea and Roudette whose motivations turn out to be much more complex than one may first assume. The summary for The Mermaid’s Madness reads in part, “The tales say the little mermaid sacrificed her own life so that her beloved prince could find happiness with his bride. The tales lie.” And, “the tales lie” sums up this whole series perfectly. In this world, heroines and villains alike are so much more than the fairytales based on them can tell you. Hines makes you feel like you’ve been reading someone else’s version of these women’s lives your whole life and only now are you meeting the real women behind the myths who refuse to be simplified, to be tucked neatly into a story about finding their prince or to be painted as simply good or evil. While I’d recommend these books on the strength of the characters alone, it’s the relationship between the three main characters that makes this series something extraordinary.
Finding explorations of women and their relationships as the central focus in this type of fantasy book sometimes seems impossible. And if that’s something you’re looking for, The Princess Series is like a dream come true. Throughout the series Danielle, Talia, and Snow learn not just how to work as a team but to trust and rely on one another. They challenge and support one another. They are three strong personalities who are not always easy on one another or themselves. The three of them often find themselves at odds with one another but there is deep love and respect the holds them together. These books are fun but by no means fluffy. There’s plenty of action and adventure but relationships and characters are at the center of each and every development. While each book is about a mission, the series as a whole is about the bond between Danielle, Talia, and Snow and how they grow as a team and individually through their work with one another. It’s a journey well worth taking as a reader.