Everyone knows the tales of sleeping princesses and magical kisses, fairy godmothers and happily ever after. Each princess is rescued by her prince, and the fairy tale ends with a big white wedding.
But as Jim C. Hines writes, “The tales lie.”
In his Princesses quartet, Danielle, Talia, and Snow are better-known as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. But while Danielle really did marry her prince, Talia and Snow are exiles from their own royal kingdoms, working as secret spies and undercover bodyguards to the Queen, Danielle’s new mother-in-law. Aside from her courtly duties, Danielle teams up with the other princesses in service to the Queen.
In battle, the three princesses each exhibit their own unique talent, one that reflects upon their classical fairy tale origins. Danielle fights with a glass sword, a magical reincarnation of her mother. Talia’s fairy gifts from her christening give her extraordinary fighting abilities. Snow practices magic using her stepmother’s mirrors.
In The Stepsister Scheme, the three princesses team up to save Danielle’s husband from her stepsisters-turned-kidnappers. In The Mermaid’s Madness, the princesses investigate the undine (mermaid) princess Lirea, who has succumbed to madness after the murder of her own prince, at her own hand. In Red Hood’s Revenge, the princesses find themselves back in Talia’s homeland, where she uncovers the true plot behind her curse. Finally, in The Snow Queen’s Shadow, a demon-controlled Snow returns to her kingdom, where Danielle and Talia struggle to save Snow from herself.
While much of the individual scenes throughout this quartet involve witty banter that left me in giggles or endearing proclamations of love that resulted in audible sighs, the overall mood of these books is a dark one. Hines draws upon some of the more twisted elements of the brother’s Grimm’s “Cinderella” and the Italian “Sun, Moon, and Talia,” including the rape and subsequent pregnancy of Talia/Sleeping Beauty. Yet Hines weaves together multiple fairy tales to make them all his own, as exemplified by Snow’s character arc, an unusual cross of “Snow White” and “Snow Queen.”
As in many fairy tales, “true love’s kiss” is a recurring plot element, but not always in the usual way. Snow receives a curse-breaking kiss from an unexpected character. A curse on Danielle ends when she is lightly scratched by her magical glass sword, a “kiss” from her mother.
It might sound cliché, but I laughed, I cried. And in regards to the final novel’s conclusion, I ugly-cried with heaving sobs. Hines might not have written the happily ever after I desperately craved, but his heartbreaking ending honored the characters and the world he created.
I recommend this series for anyone who loves strong female protagonists, anyone drawn to detailed world-building, anyone interested in exciting, action-filled plots. Have you read other fairy tales like this? If you have already read this quartet, what do you recommend I read next? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Brita Long is a francophile feminist living out her own fairy tale with her husband in Ohio. You can find her online at bellebrita.com, where she writes about her faith, books, and her life as a southern belle in the Midwest.