(Wide-Awake Princess #1)
by E. D. Baker
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
In this new stand-alone fairy tale, Princess Annie is the younger sister to Gwen, the princess destined to be Sleeping Beauty. When Gwennie pricks her finger and the whole castle falls asleep, only Annie is awake, and only Annie, blessed (or cursed?) with being impervious to magic, can venture out beyond the rose-covered hedge for help. She must find Gwen's true love to kiss her awake.
But who is her true love? The irritating Digby? The happy-go-lucky Prince Andreas, who is holding a contest to find his bride? The conniving Clarence, whose sinister motives couldn't possibly spell true love? Joined by one of her father's guards, Liam, who happened to be out of the castle when the sleeping spell struck, Annie travels through a fairy tale land populated with characters both familiar and new as she tries to fix her sister and her family... and perhaps even find a true love of her own.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
This middle-grade read has been in my TBR pile for a while, and on my "want-to-read" list for even longer. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it, because it was a very enjoyable story with only a few minor issues.
Please, dear author, I want some more...
Last year, I read a book called A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. It was basically the story of "Hansel and Gretel", which formed a framing device for a plot that incorporated a number of other classic stories. The Wide-Awake Princess does much the same thing, though it is lighter, funnier, and much more enjoyable. The story of "Sleeping Beauty" is the main tale around which the rest of the story is based.
Annie is a likeable main character, and she has an interesting trait: because of a gift given to her by her fairy godmother, she cannot be touched by magic. So when her older sister, Gwendolyn, falls victim to a sleeping curse and the whole castle is affected, Annie is the one who has to come to their rescue. She goes on a quest to gather as many princes as she can, in the hope that one of them will be her sister's true love (and then he'll kiss her and everyone will wake up and live happily ever after... well, you know the story, right?). Annie isn't a weak heroine. She may be young, but she's fairly smart and quite resourceful, and she doesn't just wait around for others to solve her problems. At one point, she even rescues herself, which I found refreshing.
Liam is one of her castle's guards, and we know Annie has a bit of a crush on him almost from the very beginning. He isn't in the castle when the curse strikes, so he is spared, and later becomes Annie's companion on her question to collect princes. I quite like him, though he may be just a little too perfect (even if he was purposely written to not be; that'll make sense if you read the book).
The princes themselves are an entertaining bunch. They're all pretty distinct and developed quite well, even though some of them only make brief appearances. From the clever and charming Prince Andreas to the self-loathing Prince Emilio, these guys provide some interesting options for Gwendolyn's "true love".
I found the story itself to be fast-paced and well done, especially as it incorporated all the fairy tales. Aside from "Sleeping Beauty", there's "Hansel and Gretel", "The Frog Prince", and "The Princess and the Pea"... among others. There are fairy rings and kelpies and ogres and beasts, magic spells and witches, wicked fairies and benevolent fairy godmothers. There's an awful lot packed into this book, but the author manages to incorporate it all in a way that seems completely organic.
It's all a matter of taste...
The main issue I have with this book is that I can't figure out what age group it's intended for. Annie is Gwendolyn's younger sister... and Gwendolyn turns sixteen at the beginning of the book. Because of the way the story is written, and the language that is used, I found myself thinking of Annie as around thirteen. But she has to be older than that, because she's thinking about boys and marriage herself! Plus, there's one thing in this story that I found completely predictable; I'm not sure if younger readers will pick up on it as quickly, but I had my suspicions many chapters before the revelation was made.
Let's get technical...
The writing in this book is fairly strong, and aside from a few editing issues, I don't have a lot of complaints. The style is simple, and easy to read. I also like that there's a map of the kingdoms included.
This is a strong fairytale retelling for middle graders (although older readers may also find it entertaining). It would make a very cute movie, too!
Everyone was just as she had left them, and their breathing was just as deep and regular, but now it was more uniform. All the people seemed to be inhaling at the same time, and exhaling in unison. The noise was faint, but it almost sounded as if the castle was breathing.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs