Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Battle for Princess Madeline - Book Review

When I picked up the Battle for Princess Madeline by Kirstin Pulioff I wasn’t sure what to expect. To me, fairytales are best when they are either sweet little stories to tell my three year old or tongue-in-cheek NC17 satires. 

Scenario number 1: The Disney Love Story

Prince Whathisface needs a wife.  Sweet young SoandSo is the adolescent male's ideal: barely nubile at 16 years old, sweetly stupid, gorgeous, etc. and she just happens to be single. 


Before we know it, SoandSo meets Whatshisface and they inexplicably fall in love without mumbling so much as an awkward, “Uh, hi.”  Trouble ensues, SoandSo is separated from good old Whatshisface, and everything goes sideways until a deus ex machina materializes, solving everything tidily.  This frees Whathisface and SoandSo to begin their own Teen Mom reality TV franchise, Medieval style.  

Butterflies and rainbows abound.

Scenario Number 2: Cinderella Meets the Sopranos

Yo! Prince Whatshisface needs a wife, already.  He's happily single, a raging alcoholic with a gambling problem and an expensive goomah but then his loan shark tells him he’s in danger of losing his shiny new Italian carriage and his ability to walk unless he pays his debts, like yesterday.  


The D-bag trolls the kingdom looking to marry a rich yet stupid young virgin who doesn't know he's gavone.  Enter young SoandSo.  She is new to the kingdom and loaded so she becomes Whatshisface’s target-of-choice.  They meet at a rave but Prince Whatshisface comes off (surprise!) sounding less-than-charming.  SoandSo kicks him to the curb in front of his friends and, in a moment of cocaine-induced psychosis, Whatshisface decides, “She's not going to get the best of me!” He kidnaps her, hoping that Stockade Stockbroker uh...Stockholm Syndrome will kick in at some point and she’ll agree to marry him before his loan shark kicks in his kneecaps.  

Eventually, Whatshisname decides to force the issue and marry her: willing or not.  He slips her a couple of roofies, manhandles her in the trunk of his carriage and heads to the local drive-through wedding chapel.  When she wakes up to hear the guy say over the speaker if anyone has an objection let them speak now or forever hold their peace she lets her fists do the talking – she knocks out Whatshisname's teeth and escapes.  SoandSo capitalizes on the notoriety and respect she gets from standing up to Whatshisface to poach manpower from other gangs.  Then, she takes over the kingdom's cartels and is forever known as the Godmother.  

Cannolis and RICO violations abound.

The Real Story

At first glance, I thought THE BATTLE FOR PRINCESS MADELINE looked like it would kind of/sort of fit into the first category.  There certainly weren't any roofies, goomahs or cannolis mentioned in any of the book reviews I read so I thought it was a pretty safe bet that scenario 2 wasn't a go.  The thing was, even though Prince Paulsen needs a wife and Princess Madeline is sweet, gorgeous, and barely nubile at 16 years old,  that's where the resemblance to scenario 1 ends.  In other words, no one in this book busts out into song and there weren't any schmaltzy romantic montages.  (Insert fist pump!)  In case you haven’t already guessed, I was pretty damn happy when I realized this book wasn't going to cutesy me into submission.   

As someone with a daughter, I shudder to mention it but this book's 16 year old princess is engaged. Initially I was all like, “Ohmahgawd. What kind of a, like, example is that for my kid?”  I was tempted to go back to my normal Tuesday activities (drinking myself into a stupor while watching Toddlers and Tiaras) but then my left brain kicked in, reminding me that this was pastoral fantasy so a 24 year old would probably be considered an unmarriageable hag while a 16 year old would be prime marriage material.   

That dilemma resolved, I dove into the book.  I quickly discovered that I was (for the second time this summer) in the position of being pleasantly surprised by something I was reading.  In particular, I was excited by the quality of Pulioff's writing, not because I didn't think she would be a good writer, but because I (mistakenly) assumed mid grade fiction would require shorter, choppier writing to accommodate the limitations of younger readers.  (Whaaat? I talk about booze and Tramped up Toddlers and you don't blink but you get all huffy when I say I thought kids needed simpler writing?  Remember, I typically read adult fiction or my daughter's coma-inducing Pinkalicious books, people - I don't exactly have any recent MG experience to draw on.)  Instead, this book has a nice flow and there are more than a few moments in this story where young readers will be exposed not only to good writing at a comfortable MG level but good writing at any level. I'm a big believer that the best books have story and flow and this one has both.    

One thing that was a bit of a problem for me was that Madeline is presented as an independent and intelligent young woman but she occasionally made some very strange decisions that just don’t seem to jibe with those qualities.  For example, she assumed that her enemy’s scum-of-the-earth lackeys would feel bound by the rules and conventions of the knightly code of chivalry when she offered herself up to them as a hostage/distraction at a pivotal point in the story.  Given the riff raff Paulsen had in his army, she should have ended up on a milk carton or a front runner in next year’s Darwin Awards.  Luckily for her, in her world there is honour amongst irredeemable psychopaths so she survives - honour unbesmirched -  to (presumably) head up a third instalment in this quality series.  In the end, I guess it boils down to this: she's 16 years old.  Lucky?  Yes.  Street smart?  Eeeeh...not so much.

Aside from this one minor quibble, I really enjoyed this book.  It is definitely written with a mid-grade reader in mind but this particular adult enjoyed it as a nice, light read.  It is also one book in a series I guarantee I will be reading with my daughter when the time comes to introduce her to the mid grade reading level. 

I'm giving this book my enthusiastic recommendation and 4.75 stars out of 5.

Kirstin and her books can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Goodreads.

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