Friday, September 20, 2019

Review - Harriet the Invincible

Harriet the Invincible (Hamster Princess #1)
by Ursula Vernon
Date: 2015
Publisher: Dial Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: illustrated chapter book
Pages: 256
Format: e-book
Source: library

Sleeping Beauty gets a feisty, furry twist in this hilarious new comic series from the creator of Dragonbreath

Harriet Hamsterbone is not your typical princess. She may be quite stunning in the rodent realm (you'll have to trust her on this one), but she is not so great at trailing around the palace looking ethereal or sighing a lot. She finds the royal life rather... dull. One day, though, Harriet's parents tell her of the curse that a rat placed on her at birth, dooming her to prick her finger on a hamster wheel when she's twelve and fall into a deep sleep. For Harriet, this is most wonderful news: It means she's invincible until she's twelve! After all, no good curse goes to waste. And so begins a grand life of adventure with her trusty riding quail, Mumfrey... until her twelfth birthday arrives and the curse manifests in a most unexpected way.

Perfect for fans of Babymouse and Chris Colfer's Land of Stories, this laugh-out-loud new comic hybrid series will turn everything you thought you knew about princesses on its head.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wasn't sure what to expect from this one. The synopsis says it's perfect for fans of Babymouse, but I'm definitely not one of those. Still, I came across one of Vernon's stories in an anthology and thought it was hilarious, so I decided to give this book a try. Harriet the Invincible is actually a highly enjoyable illustrated chapter book. I even want to keep going with the series (which doesn't always happen)!

Based on the story of Sleeping Beauty, Harriet the Invincible begins with a curse. On her twelfth birthday, Harriet will injure herself on a hamster wheel and fall into a deep sleep. Wanting to get ahead of the curse, her parents search out princes they can have on standby for when the curse hits. Harriet is rather unimpressed with the idea. After discovering that the curse will happen no matter what--and that she is therefore invincible--she goes questing and has lots of adventures, getting in all the fun she can before the curse hits.

But Harriet is not an ordinary princess, and when it's time to be cursed, she fights back... and accidentally puts everyone else in the kingdom to sleep! Despite her misgivings, she goes in search of a prince to help wake up her parents and subjects, with her riding quail, Mumfrey, as her loyal companion.

This is a really cute take on a fairy tale. It has a feminist bent, and Harriet is no shrinking violet of a princess. She's strong and smart and capable. The supporting characters are just as good, from the evil fairy Ratshade to the reluctant prince Wilbur.

The illustrations are simple, but necessary, as they often take the place of the text (you can't just skim over them, or you'll miss important bits of the story). Mumfrey is particularly fun to look at... but, then again, he's just a fun thing to think about. He's a riding quail, complete with saddle. What's not to love?

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. Vernon tells a good story here, turning the Sleeping Beauty tale on its ear and giving us a much more proactive princess than the passive sleeper we see in the original. I'd recommend this one to middle graders and up (it's smart and funny enough to entertain older readers, as well) and to anyone who likes fairy tale retellings with a bit of a twist.

Quotable moment:

Harriet gripped her sword more tightly and took a step forward.

Ratshade sneered at her. "Still playing with swords? You should learn how to act like a princess!" She twitched her claws, and the sword shot out of Harriet's hands and buried itself in the wall next to Wilbur's head. Wilbur yelped and jumped sideways.

"I am acting like a princess!" yelled Harriet. "I'm a princess, and therefore any way that I act--oh, never mind!" She lunged for the sword.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.75 out of 5

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