I thought I had reviewed these before, but I can’t find them, so I guess I never actually got around to writing the reviews! So today, in addition to reviewing the book I just finished, I am giving two mini-reviews. Three for the price of one!
I discovered Merrie Haskell a couple of years ago, and so far I have enjoyed everything I’ve read of hers. Her first book, The Princess Curse, is a very intriguing retelling that takes Twelve Dancing Princesses and then unexpectedly merges it with Beauty and the Beast. I really didn’t see that one coming, and I very much enjoyed how it added depth to the story. Because if there’s one thing 12 Dancing Princesses lacks… it’s depth. (No aspersion meant, it’s one of my all-time favorite fairy tales, but when it comes right down to it, there are a lot of holes in the plot… which is why I am always excited about a retelling, there’s just so much left to the imagination that it allows authors to take some very neat turns with it).
Then I read “Handbook for Dragon Slayers” which was not a retelling, but still had a very fantasy/fairy-tale feel complete with a princess, knights, and dragons.
About the only negative thing I can think of about “Handbook” was that the main character wants to join a convent so that she can be left to attend to the scribe-work that she really loves. This would not have bothered me, except that the main character in The Princess Curse has a very similar desire, except she wants to join a convent so she can focus on medicine.
I know how easy it is for an author to “recycle” ideas that they just love. It’s a big temptation… but it also can get a little annoying for the reader. I’m not saying I’ll never do it… for crying out loud, I find a word or a phrase I like and end up using it FAR too often, usually pruning it out in the edits.
So, it was with excitement and some trepidation that I picked up Castle Behind Thorns.
I needn’t have worried. There was nary a wishful desire to spend the rest of anyone’s life in a convent in sight!
Meet Sand. He wakes up all alone in fireplace of a broken castle surrounded by thorns, with no idea of how he got there. He’s seen the castle, of course, but nobody really notices or cares about it. But now he finds himself trapped. The castle is frozen in time, it seems. Everything is broken in half, but no rot or decay has touched anything… so the good news is, he won’t starve anytime soon. Though he does fear that he will eventually grow tired of turnips. A blacksmith-in-training (not an official apprentice, because Sand’s father wants to send him away to University, though Sand has no desire to do anything but become a blacksmith), Sand first works out the necessities to survive (food and a method of retrieving water from the well without a bucket) and then begins to set to work mending things in the castle.
However, mending things brings about some startling consequences…
This book was so good. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I was hanging on every word, aching to discover the secrets behind the breaking of the castle right along with Sand. I enjoyed the relationship between Sand and Perotte (who shows up in the castle and adds to the mystery) and how it developed into a truly beautiful friendship. I really enjoy that this author manages to consistently write stories that involve boy-girl friendships without ever hinting at a romantic thread (there is a bit of a romantic thread in The Princess Curse, but Handbook for Dragon Slayers and Castle Behind Thorns are very sweet friendship stories).
Overall, this is very possibly the most unique take on “Sleeping Beauty” I’ve ever read. I didn’t even really notice the Sleeping Beauty elements until I started thinking more about what I wanted to say in my review.
I enthusiastically give all three of these books five dragon eggs and my sincere recommendation.