Completed 8/19/2023, Reviewed 8/19/2023
I really liked the byline of this book. “This isn’t the kind of fairy tale where the princess marries the prince. It’s the one where she kills him.” This is a subversive novel in that sense. It is pretty dark, but very satisfying. The prose is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Kingfisher. I’ve really enjoyed her work so far. The last book of hers I read was A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, which was really inventive. This one is inventive too, but I found it a slower read. It’s only about 250 pages, but I found I couldn’t really zip through it until the last fifty pages or so. That’s when it really grabbed me and I fought immense drowsiness to get through the end. This book was nominated for a 2023 Hugo, which will be announced later this year, and a 2022 Nebula. While I think this book is pretty good, I don’t think it’s exactly award worthy.
Marra is the youngest of three princesses. Her eldest sister is married off to the prince of the large, neighboring kingdom to the north. She dies by “accident” less than a year later. Then her next sister is married to the prince. When she becomes pregnant, Marra goes to visit her. There she finds that the prince abuses her sister. Vowing vengeance on the prince, she completes some impossible tasks to get the favor of a gravewitch to help her in her quest. Together with the witch, a demon-possessed chicken, a reluctant fairy godmother, a handsome former knight, and a dog made of bones, she attempts her quest to kill the abusive prince.
What I’m finding of Kingfisher is that her prose always seems to be excellent. Even when, as in this case, the story falls a little flat, her books are always incredibly readable. Her world building is also quite amazing. Her system of magic in this book, which not extensive, is unique and well defined. I was impressed by the different levels of fairy godmothers. I also liked that Marra was able to perform the “impossible” tasks as requested by the gravewitch.
I really liked Marra as a character. While she vows vengeance, she’s a rather reluctant hero. When her sisters were married off, she was sent to a convent for safe keeping in case both died and she would have to wed the prince. She actually liked the convent. There she joined in the chores willingly and had time for sewing and embroidery, which she loved doing. And the sisters were kind to her, and to each other. When she leaves the convent for her quest, she’s nervous, unsure of what she’s doing, only knowing that she must do something to help her abused sister.
Overall, I did like the book. I just don’t feel it should win an award. I would however, like to read more of Kingfisher. She reminds me for some reason of Patricia McKillip in her style, content, and length of books. She doesn’t have to write a huge tome to get a point across. Sometimes a sweeping saga isn’t necessary for every idea. A short book can do just fine to give you an entertaining fantasy experience. I give this book three out of five stars. It’s very good and very enjoyable.