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Book Review: The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

* Author: Jim C. Hines
* Genre: Fairytale, Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery
* Paperback: 352 pages
* Publisher: DAW
* Publication Date: January 6, 2009
* ISBN-10: 0756405327
* ISBN-13: 978-0756405328
* Author Website
* Author Blog

The Stepsister Scheme is the first in a trilogy of novels about three princesses out of fairytale. Part fractured fairytale, part sequel to the “happily ever after” of the original tales, the narrative is about Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White after their dreams supposedly came true.

Though not as funny as his Jig the Goblin series, Jim C. Hines’ newest book, The Stepsister Scheme, still has its funny moments. Perhaps that was inevitable based on its content, but I prefer to think it is more because of Hines’ optimistic style of storytelling. The heroes win in Hines’ books, and in an publishing world that enjoys anti-heroes and villains as protagonists, Hines work is like a breath of fresh air.

As the title suggests, this story centers on the character of Cinderella, otherwise known as Danielle de Glas. She has married her prince and has been living the high life for the better part of the year touring the island kingdom they will one day rule. But not long after her return, she is visited her former torturer, the senior stepsister. In the conversation and ensuing fight, Danielle learns that he husband has been kidnapped. There is little she can do, until a supposed servant leads her down into the bowels of the castle, where she learns to her surprise that her mother-in-law has been secretly stockpiling princesses. Snow White and Talia (Sleeping Beauty) did not quite get the happily ever after the stories relate, and so have become fixers and guardians for Queen Bea. Danielle and the other two consequently go off together in search of Danielle’s husband.

Hines has chosen to use the original fairytales as his primary source material. These are much darker than the more popularized versions most people are familiar with. Though there are some Disneyfied aspects (both for humor and as plot devices), they are limited in quantity. Hence, Talia’s story is rather disturbing once it is revealed. Snow White suffers from certain fears. Danielle is rather untrained and seemingly unable to do much good in a fight.

But each grows and changes in the story Hines relates. There are some laughs here, something I would expect based on Hines previous work, but Hines is maturing as a writer, and as a result is diving into deeper themes, even as he entertains. Talia’s story especially looks at the darker side of human nature, and when told is quite sobering.

Hines does make a few mistakes in plotting. For instance, Snow White is able to track the prince through her magic mirror, yet before this is realized, the three princesses go on a wild goose chase back to the estate of Danielle’s father. I understand that the section was necessary, as it provides certain background on Danielle and provides her with an item she needs to continue her quest, but it is rendered out of place when White reveals her ability.

In another instance, it seemed odd that when two of the princesses are captured, a whole month goes by before a rescue attempt by the third. There seems to be no reason for it, especially since nothing happens in the intervening time that could not have happened in a much lesser period.

Still, these are not things the make the narrative unbearable, so can be glossed over. The kind of story you will find in the pages of The Stepsister Scheme is a rousing tale of sword and sorcery, set in the world of fairytales we all love, with equal parts humor and despair. I enjoyed the strong female characters, the different twist on popular fairytales, and the utter lack of heroic help from any male. In a strange way, the story takes tales that have been decried as anti-feminist, and creates characters that bolster the notion that women are capable of many more things than being rescued by the handsome prince. I recommend reading it, as I recommend all of Hines’ work. His work is always entertaining, and in many ways The Stepsister Scheme is his best yet.

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