Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wisdom's Kiss

Wisdom's Kiss is a very different sort of young adult novel, just out in September. It takes place in the world Catherine Gilbert Murdock created in Princess Ben, which I also read and enjoyed, some decades after the events of that book.

In Wisdom's Kiss, Princess Wisdom has selected a husband-to-be based purely on her wish to see the world. Trudy is an orphan maid at a small-town tavern, her only friend a boy named Tips who's gone off to be a soldier, so his letters say. Wilhemina is an ambitious duchess with plans to see her son wed a queen and, therefore, have a chance at eventually ascending to the throne of the whole empire. And Ben is back, the queen mother of Montagne, grandmother to a queen and a princess about to be married. Add to this colorful cast of characters a cat who seems almost human and a few royals who have vowed never to use magic again, and you have an intriguing, adventuresome tale.

But the book is unique for another reason. Most books you read are pure prose, separated into chapters, telling a story from a certain point of view or several, but all in one format. Wisdom's Kiss combines diaries, plays, encyclopedia entries, letters, and memoirs to piece together one whole humorous tale. If you are having trouble picturing what that would look like, I'll try to explain. Each chapter is a piece of the puzzle, but each chapter takes the form of one of the above. One chapter might be like a Shakespearean play. The next is a very serious encyclopedia entry of pure facts with an obvious disdain for anything fictional. The next is Princess Wisdom's own diary entry, full of the emotional angst of a young woman on the verge of marriage. And these entries keep coming up every few chapters so that when you look at the whole book, you have a full picture of what's going on. It could be confusing, but it works, for the most part.

I have to say "for the most part" because, personally, I don't love the style. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to stories. I like to be drawn in from the start so that I hardly even realize I'm reading a story and not part of it, but the very nature of a book like Wisdom's Kiss keeps the reader somewhat at a distance. You feel like an outsider piecing together history. I imagine it was a fun exercise for the author to write the story this way. But from experience, I know that what an author enjoys writing and what people enjoy reading can be two different things. Still, the more I got into the book, the less the various storytelling styles bothered me because the story is really a good one.

Three stars for Wisdom's Kiss, a very creative fairytale, to say the least.

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