Posted on March 4, 2010 by Monica Valentinelli
Available at Amazon.com
On the front cover of my copy of THE STEPSISTER’S SCHEME, there’s a quote. The quote reads:
“These princesses will give Charlie’s Angels’ a serious run for their money, and leave ’em in the dust.” — Esther Fresner, author of Nobody’s Princess.
Immediately, that quote set my expectations that THE STEPSISTER’S SCHEME was going to be a so-called fantasy “popcorn read.” That I was just going to sit back and watch Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty kick a whole lot of troll butt while they flirt their proverbial tiaras off. You know that part where you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? Yeah, guilty as charged.
While there is plenty of action and adventure in THE STEPSISTER’S SCHEME, it is not a straight-up “popcorn read.” The series is a re-imagining of classic fairy tale characters from a more realistic (and in some cases, truly terrifying) perspective. Each princess has a “real” name and a very, realistic identity that adds to her character. Part of that identity, is the “cost” of either becoming a rags-to-riches princess, being beautiful, or having an insane amount of power because you’re the daughter of an evil sorceress. In this book, which is the first of the series, you are introduced to “some” of that backstory through Danielle, which you may commonly know as Cinderella. THE STEPSISTER’S SCHEME picks up after Danielle/Cinderella had gotten married to her prince. Not only does Danielle have a hard time reconciling her humble beginnings, the remainder of her family (a.k.a. the stepsisters) do as well. The plot not only revolves around the kidnapping of Danielle’s husband, Prince Armand, and her pregnancy, but also introduces her to Queen Beatrice’s so-called “secret service.” This “secret service” is where the Charlie’s Angels analogy comes into play, for in this book Princess Talia (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow White help Queen Beatrice maintain the peace in interesting ways.
As you would expect, female characters do have more of a prominent role in this book, but they are definitely presented in a multi-faceted way. In this book, I didn’t like Danielle’s character because I thought she was too whiny and I couldn’t understand Talia’s peculiar behavior until I learned more of her backstory. My favorite character in this book was “Snow” (as in “White”) who didn’t want to be referred to by her real name and, at times, felt embarrassed by her mother. Even though I didn’t like Danielle, I thought that her backstory was very inventive and strong, and definitely facilitated her ability to be compassionate. About half-way through the book, I realized that Hines was leaving a lot of room for her character to grow.
When I reflect upon my feelings, I think that my mixed reactions to the characters is a good thing. THE STEPSISTER’S SCHEME is a fantasy and, in many ways, a dark one. Hines ability to flesh out tried-and-true characters in a new and more realistic way enables us to relate to them, regardless of where they are or what story is taking place.
Because my attention was so heavily focused on the characters, I found that the plot moved really quickly. I was able to enjoy the blending of classic fairy tales into an actual world where these characters live, because much of the world-building made sense to me. If I shared any more, I feel as if I would spoil the book for you. In my opinion, reinventing fairy tales and blending them into “one world” is a challenge for any writer, and I believe that Jim C. Hines did a bang-up job.
So if you like fairy tales, female protagonists and dark fantasy, then I believe you will really get a kick out of THE STEPSISTER’S SCHEME.
Review by Monica Valentinelli