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Friday, January 2, 2009

“The Stepsister Scheme” by Jim C. Hines (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Jim C. Hines Website
Order “The Stepsister Scheme
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jim C. Hines made his first professional fiction sale with the award-winning short story, “Blade of the Bunny”. Since then, his short fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Sword & Sorceress, Turn the Other Chick, and over thirty magazines. His first published novel was “Goblin Quest” followed by the sequels “Goblin Hero” and “Goblin War”.

PLOT SUMMARY: Not long after Cinderella—whose real name is Danielle de Glas—married Prince Armand Whiteshore, she is attacked by her stepsister Charlotte, who suddenly has all sorts of magic to call upon. And though Charlotte fails in the assassination attempt, she manages to escape.

Soon after, Danielle discovers a number of disturbing facts: Armand has been kidnapped and taken to the realm of the Fairies; Danielle is pregnant with his child; and the Queen has her very own Secret Service that consists of princesses Talia and Snow. Talia, otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty, is a martial arts master with fairy blessings that make her almost unbeatable while Snow (White, of course), is an expert at mirror magic and heavy-duty flirting.

Can the three princesses track down Armand and extract both the prince and themselves from the clutches of some of fantasyland’s most nefarious villains?

CLASSIFICATION: From the publisher: “What would happen if an author went back to the darker themes (Brothers Grimm) of the original fairy tales for his plots, and then crossed the Disney versions of the princesses Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White with Charlie’s Angels? What’s delivered is The Stepsister Scheme—a whole new take on what happened to Cinderella and her prince after the wedding. And with Jim C. Hines penning the tale readers can bet it won’t be ‘and they lived happily ever after’.”

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 352 pages divided over fifteen chapters. Narration is in the third-person via Princess Danielle aka ‘Cinderella’. “The Stepsister Scheme” is mostly self-contained, but leaves a couple of threads unresolved and is obviously the start to a new series. January 6, 2009 marks the Mass Market Paperback Publication of “The Stepsister Scheme” via
DAW Books. Cover art provided by Scott Fischer.

ANALYSIS: I have three younger sisters, so growing up I was exposed to a lot of Disney animated movies. Repeatedly. As a result, I’m quite familiar with the Disney versions of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, although I much prefer the darker renditions found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. So when I heard of the premise behind “The Stepsister Scheme” which seemed to embrace the ‘grimmer’ origins of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty while making fun of the Disney versions, I couldn’t wait to get started. Plus, I’ve always wanted to read a Jim C. Hines book after hearing so much about his Goblin Quest trilogy. Unfortunately, “The Stepsister Scheme” wasn’t quite what I was hoping for…

On the surface, “The Stepsister Scheme” has a lot going for it. It’s fast-paced and action-packed, full of creative magic, strong female characters, and a ton of familiar fairy tale elements, both traditional and modern—curses, ghosts, magic swords, trolls, goblins, pixies, gnomes, flying horses, et cetera—that make the book a fun and entertaining read. But underneath the surface, “The Stepsister Scheme” comes up a bit short.

For starters, the novel was not nearly as funny or as witty as I was expecting it to be. In fact, the humorous moments sometimes seemed more detrimental than helpful, and the book perhaps would have been better off if the author had taken a strictly serious approach. That, or done the complete opposite and taken the full satire/parody route like The Princess Bride or Mike Resnick’s hilarious John Justin Mallory tales. Instead, the book offers a mix between the two that just wasn’t very effective.

Secondly, the characterization lacks depth with the three princesses imbued with their own personalities and specific traits, but not much else so that they are little more than two-dimensional stereotypes—Snow is cheerful and impetuous, Talia is stern and single-minded, and Danielle is compassionate and resourceful. The secondary players and villains are even less developed, which is a shame because Danielle’s stepsister, Charlotte, could have been one of the book’s more interesting characters.

Lastly, for all that “The Stepsister Scheme” does to reinvent the fairy tale and the ‘happily ever after’, the plot still ends up following a predictable path and even concludes on a happy note. That said, there is a twist towards the end of the book that promises darker times for the princesses, and the story does offer a few surprises along the way like the true mastermind behind the kidnapping. Thematically, Jim introduces a few adult topics into the fairy tale fold like murder, rape, Talia’s sexual orientation, and the consequences of using power, but these are presented more as afterthoughts rather than the powerful subject matter they could have been.

CONCLUSION:The Stepsister Scheme” is one of those books that both impressed me and left me feeling disappointed. Of the former, the novel is fast-paced and entertaining—though not quite a page-turner—and will appeal to younger readers and anyone who enjoys fairy tales. As to the latter, I felt “The Stepsister Scheme” lacked substance in a couple of areas, and just thought that Mr. Hines could have done so much more with the book’s premise. All in all, “The Stepsister Scheme” is a solid start to a new series, but the sequels will have to be much better to hold my attention…


Anonymous said...

Yes, not something I feel compelled to pick up.

ediFanoB said...

After reading your review - which is a good one - I have to think again whether I want this book or not.

Robert said...

It's not for everyone, but I would give it a shot least the first couple of chapters, which I think is a good taste of what to expect throughout the book...


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