Monday, July 17, 2017

The Great Reread Project Mark III - The Letter H

I elected to go with Jim Hines’ The Stepsister Scheme for my H reread.

The first published work I remember from Jim Hines was Jig the Goblin. It’s probably still the series for which he is best known, although that could now be his current Libriomancer series.

I decided to do something a little different with The Stepsister Scheme, it’s actually the first entry in a 4 volume Princess series. As earlier in the reread project I’d tried to read the whole series, even though the books were relatively self contained, and wound up with less than successful results (I even got rather tired of Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series when I reread the whole thing a year or two ago, and that was even after I didn’t bother with the author’s inferior attempt to resurrect the series some years after the original was completed) with Jack L. Chalker’s Dancing Gods series and John DeChancie’s Castle series, yet only electing to read the first book of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files was the way to go, I came out of it still liking Harry Dresden, I thought I’d only reread the first book of the Princess series.

The Stepsister Scheme is an entry in the ever growing subgenre of fairy tale retellings or reimaginings. Hines’ is largely a comedic writer, so a lot of this is played for laughs. It centres on 3 famous fairy tale princesses: Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (as Hines uses the Livio Basile version of Sleeping Beauty as his source, she is called Talia. In fact Cinderella is given the name of Danielle), and largely covers what took place following ‘happily ever after’. The main character is Cinderella and the stepsister of the title is one of hers attempting to take revenge for the events at the end of Cinderella, Snow and Talia aid and abet their fellow princess in her attempts to recover her prince (his name is Armand in this, and he’s such a peripheral character in the original stories that I don’t think he was ever given a first name before) from her wicked stepsister. Although the story features 3 of the best known and most loved Disney Princesses, Hines does not use the Disney versions of their stories. The cover and their adventures inside kind of put me in mind of the fairy tale princesses if they’d actually been reimagined as Charlie’s Angels, this is an image that is reinforced and grows in the following books (Hines also wrote: The Mermaid’s Madness based on The Little Mermaid legend, Red Hood’s Revenge – based on the Little Red Riding Hood story and The Snow Queen’s Shadow, which contains elements of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen).

I did like all of them when I first read them (the chase of Hansel and Gretel in the opening of one was a particular highlight), but decided to just read The Stepsister Scheme and leave it at that. So how did it go? Did the suck fairy visit? Yes and No. I enjoyed it for the most part, but found it rather uneven. I think the best way to tackle it is list some goods and some bads.

The image of the princesses as independent women in charge of their own destinies and able to look after themselves without relying on the male heroes
The pegasi (I love flying horses)
Fairytown was a lot of fun
Snow White (the narrative tends to sparkle whenever she enters it)
The action is well written
Cinderella’s use of animals to help her

The character of Talia (I get that bad things happened to her, but she was a major downer for most of it and more obnoxious than tough)
The naming of Cinderella (I understand that in the context of both Hines’ story and the original legend, the name was intended as an insult, but Danielle just didn’t work for me)
There’s a bit of a reliance on someheretofor unknown magic, usually worked by Snow, to get the heroines out of a fix, it’s not total deus ex machina, but it comes close
The portrayal of most male characters as incompetent or stupid, quite often both (I know the book is all about girl power, but at times it goes a little far to try and hit the reader over the head with the message. I doubt a book that did the opposite published in today’s market would be well received, in fact it probably wouldn’t be published in the first place)
As I said the story was at times a little uneven and hard to swallow. It quite often veers from flights of fancy to a situation of high tension and it was hard for me as a reader to easily reconcile that.

So it balances out. Overall it was a solid entry in the reread project, but I is looking like being a strong entry, even if it’s fantasy credentials are extremely wonky.