Daw Books, 2009, 339 pages
There is an old story — you might have heard it — about a young mermaid, the daughter of a king, who saved the life of a human prince and fell in love.
So innocent was her love, so pure her devotion, that she would pay any price for the chance to be with her prince. She gave up her voice, her family, and the sea, and became human. But the prince had fallen in love with another woman.
The tales say the little mermaid sacrificed her own life so that her beloved prince could find happiness with his bride.
The tales lie.
I liked The Stepsister Scheme and was in the mood for some more light entertainment. In book two of Jim C. Hines's Princess series, Danielle Whiteshore, Princess of Lorindar (aka "Cinderella"), Snow White ("Snow" to her friends), and Talia (aka "Sleeping Beauty") are back, and this time they are taking on the Little Mermaid.
Yeah, not so much.
Okay, I just liked hunting for mermaid pics.
Incidentally, I actually own the edition of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid that is illustrated by Charles Santore. It's really a beautiful version.
I will note, however, that while Jim C. Hines is supposedly drawing on the "darker" versions of the original fairy tales... he isn't so much. He's responding directly to the Disney versions and infusing them with Hans Christian Anderson and a few other versions of the most well-known fairy tales, but Hans Christian Anderson, of course, was just doing what Hines is doing, writing his own version of an older story, and that version was sanitized a lot.
Hines does put a few original twists in the story, though. Danielle, Snow, and Talia initially encounter the Undines on a trade and diplomacy mission. Unfortunately, the Undines aren't being very diplomatic when they attack and stab Queen Beatrice, Danielle's mother-in-law, with a magic knife that steals her soul.
It soon develops that Lirea, one of the daughters of the Undine king, has gone completely mad. Hearing voices, suffering psychotic paranoia, she killed her father and one of her sisters and is trying to kill the other. Meanwhile, she's gathering her tribe in preparation for war with the humans.
Our three princesses thus have to prevent a war, try to save the other little mermaid, and find a way to restore good Queen Bea's health.
The Undines are presented as an interesting, independent fantasy race with their own culture and biology. And the seafaring adventure mixing gunpowder and magic was very Pirates of the Caribbean. Danielle, Snow, and Talia continue to grow as characters. But you'll really appreciate The Mermaid's Madness if you are thoroughly familiar with the original "Little Mermaid" story, not just the Disney version — Hines takes on all the tropes from Hans Christian Anderson's version, from the sea witch to the magic knife to the "true love of a prince," to the question of whether or not merfolk have souls, and gives them a plausible, adult treatment. There are plenty of plot twists and sudden but inevitable betrayals.
Mild spoiler for book one: In The Stepsister Scheme, we learned that Talia has a crush on Snow. This is developed further in book two; Snow isn't just flirting with all those men, and Talia is suffering from serious jealousy and unrequited love.
I think Hines handles this pretty well and a lot of fans are probably shipping Snow and Talia something fierce. But I do wonder where he's going to go with this. Snow seems to be awfully fond of men, so it will be hard to write her suddenly being willing to bat for the other side in a way that won't make me roll my eyes. But poor Talia, if she is fated to be forever disappointed.
Have you read The Mermaid's Madness?
Verdict: An equally entertaining sequel, good enough to keep me reading the series. The Princess books are well-executed traditional fantasy with a few clever fairy tale twists, and notably full of female characters — not just one or two "strong women" but a whole cast of women, good and bad. In fact, if you think about it, the men are, while decent characters also, entirely supporting cast with minor roles, who do little to further the plot.... I SEE WHAT UR DOING THAR JIM C HINES.
Also by Jim C. Hines: My review of The Stepsister Scheme.
My complete list of book reviews.