The Stepsister Scheme
Jim C. Hines
Daw (344 pp, $7.99, January 2009)
Reviewed by E.E. Knight
Jim C. Hines has penned a worthy follow-up to his Jig the Goblin books, a delightfully funny series that established Hines as the go-to guy for humorous fantasy between Pratchett publication dates.
Jig was short on size and muscle but long on moxie and chutzpah. Hines has glammed up his protagonists for this new series, taking on one of the most popular public domain franchises (thanks to Walt Disney): Fairy Tale Princesses, cleverly mashing them up with a Charlie’s Angels-style setup.
Sleeping Beauty (“Talia”) is more or less the leader, Snow White (“Snow”), the series sexpot and owner of some handy mirror-magic, and Cinderella (“Danielle”) is the bride with the kidnapped Prince and husband who needs rescuing. During her quest Danielle discovers her own power (no fear, it is delightfully Disneyesque) as she risks all to return her bridegroom Prince Armand to her bedchamber and his position as future heir to the Kingdom of Lorindar, currently under Queen Beatrice. Queen “Bea” is the royal voice dispatching the gals on their assignments, sometimes contracted through Snow’s magic mirror.
The Stepsister Scheme is a blend of Maguire’s Oz updates, Shrek’s madcap fairy tales, and gal detective stories.
Hines’s strengths, his quick pacing, humor, energetic wit, and lively characterizations, combine with imaginative reveals of new facets and facts about the princesses throughout the story. A satisfyingly clever writer, Hines handles this kind of story like a magician with a trick deck. While it takes a little while to get used to Sleeping Beauty telling her partners to “shove it” (Hines isn’t very strict about keeping to Disneyesque or fantasy lingo), if you can get over the decidedly modern feel to the attitude of this fantasy, you’ll enjoy the quick twists and turns and entertaining characters.
Improvements to this series might include a map and more detailed backstory about how the worlds of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella came together.
While the book is aimed at an adult audience, I believe it would also be ideal for former “Disney Princesses” getting into their middle teens and up. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy Gregory Maguire and Terry Pratchett.
A slightly different version of this review originally appeared in Black Gate Magazine #14