Pros: Original; touching; incredibly creative; tragic; wonderful!
Rating: 5 out of 5
In his “Princess Novels,” author Jim C. Hines explores the truth behind the fairy tale, and what comes after the “happily ever after.” The Stepsister Scheme followed Sleeping Beauty (Talia), Snow White (known simply as Snow), and Cinderella (Danielle) when Danielle’s husband, Armand, was kidnapped. In order to get him back, the three princesses were forced to face some truly perilous foes. What ensued was a wild blend of both the gripping and the hilarious—Hines has a wonderful grasp of the ridiculous without having to sacrifice either beauty or tragedy to achieve it.
In The Mermaid’s Madness, it’s time for Queen Beatrice to welcome the undine (mer-folk) home from their migration, and Danielle must accompany her in order to start learning her future duties. It all goes horribly wrong, however, when it turns out that there’s a new leader of the undine—and Lirea has a serious grudge against the queen. Beatrice has a habit of taking in princesses with problems, and this time is no different—she’s been sheltering a young undine princess named Lannadae.
It isn’t what you think, however. Lannadae is not “the Little Mermaid” of legend; Lirea is. Only Lirea’s tale was far more tragic than the storybooks portrayed it as, and it has had lasting repercussions that could destroy the undine—or rip apart the human nations surrounding them. Soon the princesses find themselves working against time to save Queen Bea’s life, stop Lirea’s ambitious schemes, and keep Lannadae safe. They’re aided by the queen’s ship, carved from a dryad’s tree and captained by that same dryad. Snow is learning to harness and improve her growing powers; Danielle is learning to be a princess instead of a servant; and Talia—well, Talia is still trying to handle her secret and desperate love for someone who will likely never return her feelings.
Casting the Little Mermaid of legend—one of the more tragic and sweet figures of fairy tale history—as an antagonist was a bold move, and one that Hines carries off amazingly well. Her tale is far more complex and interesting than you might expect, and provides the perfect backdrop for our familiar princess trio from the last book.
The characterizations are, as before, gorgeous. Danielle’s attempts to cope with going from servant to princess are at times beautiful, sad, and funny. Snow’s powers come into play more strongly in this tale, and we get to find out some truly horrifying things about how she was raised and why she’s a little messed up in certain ways. As for Talia, while in some ways she always seems to try to fade into the background, her unrequited feelings of love for another (sorry to be circumspect, but anyone who hasn’t read the first book shouldn’t have it spoiled for them) are a thread that wends throughout this entire book.
I’m impressed by the author’s ability to balance humor and tragedy. Lirea’s tale is truly tragic; Queen Bea’s situation creates a ton of tension; Talia’s feelings are incredibly sad. Yet Hines can still weave fantastically creative humor (the dryad and her ship blew me away) and butt-kicking action into the mix without unbalancing things at all. Add on top of that a complex plot with plenty of surprises in store, and it’s hard to go wrong with this book!