The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines is a fresh spin on what happens after the happily ever after of various Grimm fairy tales. In a fantasy world where Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are real princesses but the stories are mostly rumors, Cinderella (whose real name is Danielle) has only been married to her prince a short while when he suddenly disappears. Add to that her stepsister trying to assassinate her and the weird servant girl who saved her, and Danielle is just having a bad day. Fortunately, the expert mirror sorceress Snow White (call her Snow) and the expert assassin Sleeping Beauty (call her Talia on pain of pain) make up the queen’s Secret Service and are ready to help Danielle track down her kidnapped prince and show her stepsisters who they should really be afraid of.
I can’t believe that I haven’t read any Jim C. Hines until my friend handed me his Princess series! Now before you get all, “another fairy tale retelling, ugh,” let me reassure you that The Stepsister Scheme is based on the Grimm fairy tales, not any of the recent fluffed up stories. Danielle’s stepsisters have crippled feet from their mother trying to cut them to fit into the glass slipper. Danielle’s stepmother died from wounds suffered from the doves at Danielle’s wedding attacking her. No Disney stories here. The whole story follows this same feel of fairy tales with a real bite, making it perfect for mature young adults or adults to enjoy this retelling.
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Title: The Stepsister Scheme
Author: Jim C. Hines
Genre-ish: Grimm fairy tales retold
Rating: ★★★★★- Kick butt!
Setting: The Stepsister Scheme takes place after the various Grimm princess fairy tales take place. Cinderella has already met and married her prince, Sleeping Beauty has already woken up and escaped from her “prince” and Snow White has fought and killed her mother. The world is split into the humans’ area and the fairies’, however, due to an ancient battle. In the fairy queen and kingdom (The queen would not be happy if it was called a kingdom….) everything from pegasi to goblins to duck-billed girls can be found, and in the human kingdoms sorcery and martial arts are perfected by the various peoples.
Premise: Danielle is quite happy with her new life and her new love, but when the prince disappears and her stepsister comes to assassinate her, it becomes clear that things are not going to be as nice as she thought. Fortunately, Queen Beatrice (Bea for short) has her own Secret Service made up of a mirror magic sorceress called Snow (White) and a martial arts expert who doesn’t have to sleep anymore after sleeping for a century. Don’t call her Sleeping Beauty though, no matter what stories you’ve heard; she doesn’t much like that name….
- The problem with most fairy tale retellings is that they are based off the fluffy stories and lack much tension. No such problem with The Stepsister Scheme! Since these are based on the Grimm tales there is no doubt that bad things can and will happen to the characters. The trolls really will try to eat you, the random magical creatures are very much not trustworthy and there is a definite possibility of icky or scary things happening, which all add to the compelling nature of the plot.
- I really liked the princesses’ personalities. They had a wide range from the flirty Snow to the serious and emotionally scarred Talia and Danielle was obviously from forced servitude recently from various stray thoughts. These are women that I would love to meet, decent role models, but with their own flaws and secret pains, very well-rounded over all.
- Snow’s mirror magic is awesome. She has to have a mirror of some kind (and therefore wears some around her neck) and she is so creative with her magic! Similarly, Talia has some awesome weapons beyond the typical fantasy weapons. Finally, Danielle can communicate with small animals as she could in the fairy tale, and this comes in surprising use.
- At one point Danielle is talking with Talia about her fairy gifts, and since one of the gifts was perfect beauty, Danielle gets confused. Talia is not as beautiful as Snow in Danielle’s opinion, though she obviously doesn’t want to say that. Talia saves her by explaining that in her kingdom, she is the epitome of beauty, but there is a different standard of beauty where Danielle is from, and in Talia’s kingdom Snow would be considered grossly pale with strangely pointy features. Different standards of beauty is a freaking awesome lesson to work in, thank you Jim C. Hines!
- Seeing as the Prince is kidnapped and under various spells for pretty much all of the book, there is basically no romance element at all. This was fine with me, but I know many of you really like your romance, so just to warn you.
- Talia had some pretty heavy stuff happen to her in the past (her prince didn’t exactly stop at the kiss) which pushes this novel more to the mature level since you probably don’t want to have that talk with a younger reader yet.
- Talia and Snow could have been a bit better developed, since it seems like they both are mostly just their one descriptor: serious and flirty, respectively.
- The last third of The Stepsister Scheme has a little bit of a strange time structure since there is a break of at least several days in the middle of the important epic-ness. This through me a little bit, but it works pretty well in the end.
The Stepsister Scheme is a freaking awesome start to the Princess series by Jim C. Hines and any (fairly mature) reader who likes kick butt female characters and fantasy settings. Hines writes wonderful characters and the world is fresh and interesting. I’m really looking forward to finding time to read the rest of the books and hopefully explore more parts of the world and maybe more of the fairy tales! Seriously, just go find a copy of The Stepsister scheme, I can’t think of anything more to say, haha.