Ever wondered what comes after the happily-ever-after? For the four Princes Charming (or is it Prince Charmings?), it’s the realization that no one knows your name because they’re much more interested in the lady. But when one of those ladies goes off in search of adventure, what begins as a missing bard quickly grows into a heroic (and not-so-heroic) quest involving bandits, bounty hunters, giants, dragons, and a grumpy witch with serious issues. Buckle up, lovelies! It’s one crazy ride.
This book should come with a warning printed on it: do not attempt to eat or drink while reading. My keyboard will never be the same.
This book has such a fantastic sense of fun, a humor that infuses every sentence. Its pitch-perfect tongue-in-cheek narration (think Lemony Snicket without the bite) has a levity that keeps the story floating along effortlessly. You will hurt yourself laughing with this one, whether it’s sniggers over Sir Bertram the Dainty, giggles over well-meaning but rather inept Frederic, or full-on belly shakers over the Bandit King. This could be a dangerous book to read in public- depends on how you feel about people staring at you, or if you feel uncomfortable losing all composure in front of people. It’s a fantastic story to read aloud with kids. Honestly, I think my friends and I would get a kick of out reading it out loud together if we were in the same area code.
The four princes are all distinct, fitting certain stereotypes but embodying them so fully that they step beyond them. They have varying degrees of frustration with the Prince Charming label (and the lack of publicity for their exploits that comes with it), and all four of them grow and learn along the way. But initially? These four princes couldn’t be more different. There’s prissy Frederic, who’s never been on an adventure in his life and considers his greatest talent to be his ability to coordinate his stylish clothing. He’s never ridden a horse (too dangerous!), slept outdoors (too messy!), or even lifted a sword (too risky!). There’s Prince Gustav, unlucky in most of what he attempts. He’s very brave but he’s uh…well, let’s call him impulsive. He’s huge and prickly and never stops to think before he runs into danger- or gets run over by danger. Then there’s Prince Liam, a real hero with a number of great deeds to his credit- who possibly woke up the wrong princess and needs to get away. Their fourth compatriot is Prince Duncan, who names all the animals and trusts to his luck to see him through. Together, these four function about as well as if you’d hog-tied all of them.
But they each bring something valuable to the table, even if it takes them a while to realize it. Much of the story is caught up in them bumbling around, getting in each other’s (and their own) way, but every step is also building towards that moment when they finally understand what it is to be an actual team.
Of course, there’s also the four ladies. Only half of them are princesses as of yet. There’s Ella, of Cinderella fame, now freed from her life of servitude to her step-family by virtue of being Frederic’s fiancee. It took a lot of guts to go the ball against orders, to seize opportunity when it arose, and that kind of girl doesn’t do well taking picnics day after day after day. So what’s a brave, curious, resourceful girl to do? Well, if you’re Ella, the answer is to run off in search of a missing bard. There’s also Rapunzel, whose rescue was somewhat compromised by her needing to rescue her rescuer. It’s in her nature to help people, which doesn’t much help prickly Gustav. There’s Snow White, sweet and a little odd, well-equipped for her wacky husband but just needing a few hours of peace and quiet. And then there’s Briar Rose, who probably should have been left asleep for another prince to deal with. She’s mean and spoiled and arrogant, hateful and cruel, and determined to get her own way no matter how much misery she causes. Actually, the more misery she causes the happier she is. While the focus is on the four princes, the four ladies are hardly by-standers. Each of them has a place in the story as well, some as rescue and some as…well, distraction is probably for the best for some.
But these are by no means the only characters. We meet the evil witch (who didn’t start out that way, you know), the giant in her service (who could really use a good pair of shoes), a dragon, a Bandit King with a temper (who’s a bit of a psychopath), three grumpy dwarves (are dwarves ever anything else?), a very clever little sister (because little sisters just rock), a morose bounty hunter, sixteen older brothers, five missing bards, a tavern of dangerous men, and a motley assortment of parents as idiosyncratic as their children.
It’s a fast-paced story, taking us back and forth across the lands while never letting us feel bored or battered by repetition. The foreshadowing is done in beautiful sarcasm (the prologue gives you a long description of where you’ll find the princes in Chapter 20), and sometimes the things we’re told in asides are at least as interesting as what we’re told that’s to the point.
This is a book you set aside time for, after you’ve eaten, when you’ve no thirst, with your kids or friends around you to share in it with you. Just make sure you avoid anyone you don’t want to see you laughing hysterically.
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, out in stores now. Don’t miss this!
Until next time~