This Princess and the Pea retelling tells not of a princess who is fragile, but it tells of a princess who is strong and scarred and equal to her prince.
After Lyra—a princess incapable of speech or sound—is cast out of her kingdom of daylight by her wicked aunt, a witch saves her life, steals her memories, and raises her in an enchanted forest … disguised as a boy known only as Stain.
Meanwhile, in Lyra’s rival kingdom, the prince of thorns and night is dying, and the only way for him to break his curse is to wed the princess of daylight, for she is his true equal. As Lyra rediscovers her identity, an impostor princess prepares to steal her betrothed prince and her crown.
To win back her kingdom, save the prince, and make peace with the land of the night, Lyra must be loud enough to be heard without a voice, and strong enough to pass a series of tests—ultimately proving she’s everything a traditional princess is not.
When was the last time you’d heard of a Princess and the Pea retelling? It’s been a really long time (I believe the last one I read was Gail Carson Levine’s The Princess Test, which is fantastic, btw). This gothic retelling is one of the best fairy tale retellings I’ve read in a loooong time. The story is familiar yet twisted so fantastically it feels like a whole new story.
It might scare some people off, but this is a slow-paced novel. It’s also long, clocking in at over 500 pages. However, I don’t think this was detrimental to the book. A.G. Howard was able to tell the story at a pace that made the story feel even more gothic and whimsical, as well as dark and gritty. Despite the slow pace, I never wanted to put this book down. There are some excellent twists, witty banter, fascinating settings, and a lot of political intrigue.
This book is told from four perspectives from a third person, nearly omniscient, point of view. You don’t find this very often in a YA novel, but I enjoyed being in the head of all of our characters.
Lyra, or Stain as she is later called, is our heroine. In the beginning of the story, she’s kind and intelligent, but she’s mute, so she’s often overlooked. Her story arc is fascinating to me because she at once becomes more hardened but still holds onto her good qualities. I loved seeing her grow up.
Her prince, Vesper, lives in the world opposite of hers. He is certainly hardened and scarred, angry and rebellious, but also has a kind side as well. His relationship with Lyra was surprising and refreshing. Their romance has quite a twist that was honestly perfection.
The other two perspectives are from the witch that steals Lyra’s memories and the villain. These two characters are fantastic in their own rights. None of the characters in this book felt extraneous–they each had an important role and I loved seeing their stories unfurl.
Did I mention that this book is long? A great deal of it is because of A.G. Howard’s intricate world building. Her worlds of day and night are fascinating, and the details that come with these worlds are amazing. The author’s ingenuity and creativity really makes this a stand-out fantasy for me. That isn’t to say that there are long chunks of text that is just description or explanation of the world–no, the author instead immerses you within this world through the actions of the character in a perfect balance.
The magic system in this book is fascinating as well. I loved all the magical creatures, the enchanted forest, and, of course, our magical heroine and hero.
This book was one of my most anticipated reads this year, and it didn’t disappoint. Along with the wonderful story, characters, and world building, the writing and prose is beautiful. I couldn’t put this down and would happily pick up more books by A.G. Howard.