Princess Emeralda is clumsy and awkward. She doesn’t fit her mother’s idea of a princess (and she hates her mother’s idea of a proper prince for her to marry), and she’s also no good at the magic her aunt Grasssina, a powerful witch, has been trying to teach her. When it gets to be too much, Emeralda takes off and does something impulsive—she kisses the talking frog who says he’s really a prince. And he isn’t lying…but instead of freeing him from his enchantment, she’s turned into a frog, too. Now Emeralda and Eadric have to try and track down the witch who cast the spell in the first place if they ever want to be human again.
I picked up this book because I like the modern spin on princess stories that’s been developing since, at very rough approximation, the 80s, when Disney started slanting most of its princess movies to make the princess an active character. The princess who isn’t dainty and feminine but does get to be a hero is now an archetype, but she’s one I can get behind. So when I read the summary of this book, I was excited to run across another variant on a fun theme.
Oh, boy, was I disappointed.
I knew I would be irritated with the book fairly quickly. Within the first couple chapters, Emeralda and Eadric have their meet-cute, in which he explains a witch enchanted him for insulting her fashion sense and Emeralda informs him that she won’t kiss him because he wanted any old Princess and of course she wants to feel special. Gosh, gender tropes are hilarious! Especially when they aren’t even tongue-in-cheek. Oy.
So eventually Emme gives him the kiss, turns into a frog, and they go off on wacky adventures trying to find the witch who can disenchant them. As close as I can tell, the story of the book ought to revolve around Emme gaining confidence in herself and her ability to do magic, while Eadric learns not to be so obnoxious; as they adventure, they fall in love. And the story kind of does that…but it forgot about Eadric, who is exceedingly annoying. So all the bickering between them, which is clearly supposed to be flirty and full of romantic tension, does nothing to endear him to the reader, and he never matures or develops. And it doesn’t help that the dialogue all reads very unnaturally, with long monologues and frequent subject changes:
”Do you want some?” Eadric said through a mouthful of worm.
I spun around in surprise. “What are you doing? I thought you were sick to your stomach. You shouldn’t eat any of that—it might be poisoned! Spit it out! Spit it out right now!”
“Are you kidding? This is delicious. It’s not poisoned. Here, try some.”
“Great,” I said. “I’m stuck in a cage with an idiot who eats food given to him by a witch and will probably be dead by morning.”
“Hey, I’m not the one who’s going to bed hungry. You are such a worrier! I’ve eaten half of this worm already and I still feel fine. If you’re sure you don’t want any, I’m going to finish the worm and get some sleep. We’ll think of a way to get out of this in the morning. Now, leave me alone and let me enjoy my worm in peace. Unlike someone else around here, I know how to appreciate the finer things in life.”
It’s just…so stilted. Every character talks like that throughout the whole book. It made me crazy.
I think the goal of the author was to hit a tone something like that of the masterful Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede, which take fairy tale tropes and spin them together into a wacky, charming world, with a kick-ass princess at the center of it all. Unfortunately, nothing about this book seemed particularly creative and it missed that tone completely. It was a by-the-numbers fairy tale, with clichés thrown together in a mediocre mix. The characters did nothing for me and it was so forgettable I forgot to write this review for three months. Whoops. I have no interest in picking up any of its sequels, so it gets one and a half cupcakes.
Tags: E.D. Baker