Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Review: The Extra-Ordinary Princess by Carolyn Q. Ebbitt

I kind of love The Amelia Bloomer Project, and always get excited when a new post pops up in my Google Reader. The blog just lists the nominations for the list with a quick summary, a quick way to judge whether it'd be something I'd be interested in. I also love the sheer variety of books nominated: everything from adult fiction to children's picture book biographies.

The Extra-Ordinary Princess is certainly an extraordinary book - another one of those that I absolutely couldn't put down.

Princess Amelia is the fourth princess of the kingdom of Gossling - which she figures is probably a good thing, since fourth princesses never get to be queen and she's not very good at doing princess-y things. Her hair is unruly and red (princesses should have hair as fine as spun gold), she always messes up court dances, can hardly read, and prefers to take sword fighting lessons with the gardener's son over most anything else. Her older sisters sometimes ridicule her, but her mother, Queen Charlotte, is always trying to convince Amelia that she really is no ordinary princess; maybe she will never be queen, but that is hardly the only way to judge a person's abilities.

When a terrible plague sweeps through the kingdom, taking the lives of the beloved king and queen along the way, Amelia's oldest sister, Merrill, finds herself thrust into the unexpected role of Queen. However, because Merrill is still several weeks shy of her 18th birthday, an interim ruler must be found, and by the laws of succession that ruler turns out to be a previously-unknown uncle. Of course, in true fairy tale fashion, this uncle is in fact an evil sorcerer, and casts a terrible spell on the three oldest princesses: Merrill is turned into a willow tree, and the twins Lily and Rose are turned into swans. It's merely a quirk of fate that Amelia escaped: she was quarantined in the winter palace, first to escape the plague, and then prevented from returning to the castle with her sisters by a nasty bout with chicken pox.

What follows is nothing less than an epic quest tale - but this time with an underdog princess in the lead role, rather than a hobbit or boy wizard. I could probably go back through the book with my copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces and map out most of the monomyth (the only glaring omission I can think of: no Gandalf/Dumbledore/Obi-Wan character dies). Some of the details are whittled down for a younger audience; some fight scenes are glossed over (because war is terrible and bloody and difficult to write about), and time seems to be strangely compressed and expanded whenever it fits the needs of the plot (Amelia has 40 days to break the curse on her sisters, but it's hard to keep track of how much time has elapsed at various parts of the book until some character reminds Amelia "We only have x days to break the spell!"). However, otherwise it's a rousing adventure staring almost solely women.

This is definitely a title that should end up on the final Amelia Bloomer list, and I'm sure will makes lots of other best-of lists once we reach the end of the year.
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