Monday, January 16, 2012

The Two Princesses of Bamarre

As I mentioned in my last review, I was reading a Gail Carson Levine novel, and I finished already because she writes good, quick young adult books (that aren't always part of a series!). This one was an older one of hers from 2001: The Two Princesses of Bamarre. Though Levine often writes fairytale retellings, I couldn't see that this was based on a fairytale, or at least not on one I'm familiar with. I kind of think it's a fairytale she made up herself, the idea of which I love as much as retellings.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre is somewhere between a middle school and a young adult novel. The heroine is sixteen but has much more of an innocence to her than most teenagers do these days. Her sister is one year older, and though the book is about both princesses, it is primarily Princess Addie's tale.

The princesses live in a country of cowards, but they celebrate the epic tale of Drualt, their most famous warrior, who battled dragons, gryphons, specters, and other monsters and who knew the fairies. Nowadays, nobody has seen the fairies, and all the monsters run rampant over the land. The Gray Death takes the poor and rich alike, and even the elves and sorcerers don't know the cure.

Meryl is determined to be a warrior and find the cure and fight monsters in grand adventures. Addie is afraid of spiders and makes Meryl promise not to leave her until she is married one day. But when Meryl succumbs to the Gray Death, Addie must find her courage for her sister and her country.

When the book started, I wasn't sure what I was getting into. Some of the turns of phrases seemed too kiddie for young adult, especially since the book is narrated by Addie and starts with the princesses at a younger age. The innocence of Addie makes her seem young when she's older, too, but Levine's storytelling is worthy of all ages. And by the end, when Addie's grown some depth of character and fallen in love, the story feels more like a young adult novel.

Fairytales often come with witches, and I'm not a big fan of witches at all. This one substitutes sorcerers for witches, and they are not at all the same. Though the sorcerers have a little power and magic and can fly, they aren't scary and are portrayed as good helpers with an interesting mythology behind their existence. The other monsters, including a very entertaining and intriguing dragon, are far scarier. The book is age-appropriate for middle school and up.

The adventures and the realistically flawed but loveable characters are why I love Gail Carson Levine. If fairytales are your thing (and who doesn't love a good fairytale now and then?), I don't think you can go wrong with Levine, and The Two Princesses of Bamarre is as good a place to start as any.

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