Reviewed by Rich Horton
Jim C. Hines began this series of novels early in 2009 with The Stepsister Scheme, which told of the adventures of Cinderella (aka Danielle), Sleeping Beauty (aka Talia), and Snow White (who dislikes her birth name, so just call her Snow). In the first book the three young women travel to Fairytown to rescue Danielle’s husband, who has been kidnapped by the evil stepsisters. We also hear the “real” stories behind the fairy tales told about the three women. Danielle is the only one of the three who has truly found a mostly “happy ever after”. The other two have escaped horrible situations before being rescued by Danielle’s mother-in-law.
The first story set the tone for the series: an unexpectedly effective mixture of light and dark. The alternate takes on the fairy tales mix the clever and the horrific. The tone of the narration is mostly bouncy, with some jokes, but there is a sense that these characters are real—their lives have depth and sometimes tragedy. We also learned in the first book what to expect from the main characters, who are each well-characterized. Snow White is the magic expert, the most beautiful, and most willing to use her beauty to attract bedmates. Talia is the martial arts expert, quieter and more sarcastic, and she has an only partly hidden crush on Snow White. Danielle is the most grounded character and the nicest—a niceness that is often a strength. Her special talent is talking to animals.
The Mermaid’s Madness opens with the three accompanying Queen Beatrice and her son, Danielle’s husband, Prince Armand, on an annual mission to trade gifts with the merfolk, or undine, in order to maintain a treaty with them. But this mission turns bad as the merfolk’s new queen, Lirea, tries to kill the humans, wishing to have her sister Lannadae (whom Lirea believes Beatrice is harboring) handed over to her. Lirea stabs Beatrice but is repulsed before finishing her off.
It turns out that Lirea is the “Little Mermaid”, but much as with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, her story ended sadly. She is now on a mission to banish humans from the seas and to take over the entire undine population.
The three princesses soon set off to accomplish two objectives—to frustrate Lirea’s goals and to find Lirea’s knife that will allow Queen Beatrice to recover from the magical stabbing. In this they have the aid of Lirea’s less violent sister Lannadae, who is another princess Beatrice had rescued, and of a ship captained by the dryad of the tree it was made from. Eventually they also have the ambiguous help of Lirea’s grandmother.
Standing against them are the massed might of the undine under Lirea’s rule and of the country of Lirea’s Prince, which has for its own reasons allied with her, at least temporarily.
The story is a strong mix of magic and adventure, with a number of well-portrayed and involving women characters at its heart. (Oddly, perhaps, for a male writer, the men are mostly ciphers, and even the most significant are only lightly sketched as characters.) It’s a fun read, and a well grounded book. The Mermaid’s Madness is perhaps not quite as satisfying as The Stepsister Scheme, but this may be only because there is less novelty to the situation. It’s still enjoyable and leaves one looking forward to more books about this dynamic trio of princesses.
The Mermaid’s Madness
Jim C. Hines
$7.99 | mmpb | 339 pages
Other Books by Jim C. Hines:
The Stepsister Scheme (Princess Series)