Sometimes the rumor of several much beloved story elements in one book tip my interest meter to ‘read NOW!’ And, as we all know, pretty cover art doesn’t hurt. A fairy tale mash-up featuring an herbalist’s apprentice in Eastern Europe, with a recommendation from Karen Cushman, a long-time historical fiction favorite? I’m in. And happily, I’m also satisfied.
Twelve princesses suffer from a puzzling (if silly) curse, and anyone who ends it will win a reward. Reveka, a sharp-witted and irreverent apprentice herbalist, wants that reward. But her investigations lead to deeper mysteries and a daunting choice—will she break the curse at the peril of her own soul?
Reveka is a thirteen year-old herbalist in training, and she has an affliction – an incurable streak of curiosity. This has landed her in muddles her entire life, and it is no different when she takes up residence at a castle where the princesses are cursed and those who have tried to help them end up in neverending sleep. Add in a precarious political situation and a mysterious stranger, and the heroine is determined to both find the solution to the curse and make her own luck.
The Princess Curse started slowly, and I found Reveka to be almost irredeemably annoying through the first few chapters. It wasn’t that she wasn’t believable – it’s just that I was expecting someone less stubborn. Despite that complaint, I quickly became engrossed in the story and came to value Reveka’s character and the precocious energy she brought to the narrative.
Reveka’s practical and curious mind was balanced by an original mix of mythology and fairy tale. While most obviously based on the story of the ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses,’ The Princess Curse borrows bits and pieces from many traditional tales, while maintaining its own flavor. These fantastical themes became clearer as the book progressed, and at the same time led to a longing for more of the same. While the book serves as a stand-alone, I certainly hope for more from Merrie Haskell and Reveka.
By the time I reached the end of the The Princess Curse, the blurb by Karen Cushman (Newbery medal-winning author of The Midwife's Apprentice) on the back cover made perfect sense. While it is indeed a fantasy, Haskell’s book is also rooted in the geography, history and tradition of Eastern Europe. In addition, Reveka is an herbalist-in-training, and the botany and early medicine involved in the descriptions of her work are fascinating and well-researched. This setting transforms The Princess Curse from ‘quite good’ into a must-read for anyone with a bent towards fairy tale or historical fiction.
Recommended for: devotees of middle grade fantasy and historical fiction, fans of fairy tales old and new, and those who appreciate a well-rounded story set in a fascinating and unique world full of both magic and folklore.
Would you like to win a copy of The Princess Curse? Enter my giveaway for a book of your choice (ends November 1).