~by Jim C. Hines
The first time I heard about The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines was at the Kerrytown Bookfest's SF panel; during the discussion, Hines passed around the newly completed cover for the first book in his new series. Even though it's almost embarrassingly pink and purple I fell in love with it. (Hines has been very lucky when it comes to the cover artists for his books.) The cover wasn't the only thing that interested me in The Stepsister Scheme. Like in many of his previous books, Hines uses fairly standard fantasy elements and give them a twist to make them his own. In this case, he takes three famous fairy-tale princesses--Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty--and turns them into kick-butt heroines.
Danielle de Glas (now Danielle Whiteshore) didn't really mean to become a princess of Lorindar, it just kind of happened that way. Her prince and love of her life brought her up from the cinders and into luxury after searching for her with only a single glass shoe as a clue to her identity. But Cinderella's story doesn't end there. When Prince Armand is kidnapped by her stepsisters, she rushes off to rescue him--but not without help. She is joined by two of the Queen's very special guests: Ermillina "Snow" Curtana (Snow White) and Talia Malak-el-Dashat (Seeping Beauty). During their mission they will face deadly perils together that challenge all their wit, strength, and skill. But they will stop at nothing to reunite Danielle with her prince.
These are definitely not your Disney princesses. Drawing on several different versions of the original tales, Hines doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of the stories and uses them quite well to create his own version. Which is not to say there isn't levity and humor in The Stepsister Scheme, although its inclusion did feel a little out of place in a couple of scenes. I really like Hines' princesses and each has her own distinct personality which makes complete sense given her story; Talia is probably my favorite, followed by Snow, but I'm really quite fond of them all. The pacing in general is very good, especially after the first couple of chapters, although occasionally the descriptions of action and items left me wondering exactly what was going on.
Hines' action-packed take on the princesses is really quite a bit of fun. It's particularly nice to see strong female characters that aren't trapped in "warrior women" stereotypes. Many fairy-tale tropes do make and appearance in the story (not something that could entirely be avoided, really), but some are so completely turned around that Hines bring something wonderfully delightful to the genre--it's not so often that it's the prince who needs rescuing by his princess. As with Goblin Quest, it did take me a few chapters to really get into the book, but once I did it was a blast. I enjoyed The Stepsister Scheme very much, and while I now have the rest of Hines' Goblin books to keep me company, I'm definitely looking forward to the release of the next Princess novel, The Mermaid's Madness.