Review: The Princess Companion

Recently, I received a surprise Hanukkah gift in the form of a new princess book. The Princess Companion by Melanie Cellier is a novel-length adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, "The Princess and the Pea" in the vein of Gail Carson Levine's restructured fairy tales, Margaret Peterson Haddix's Palace Chronicles, and Jessica Day George's Princesses of Westfalin trilogy. Similar to the aforementioned works, The Princess Companion is the first book in Melanie Cellier's The Four Kingdoms Series, which contains novel retellings of various well-known fairy tales in a world where every princess is connected through blood or significant events in her life. This is the first book I have read in the series, so I can't comment on the rest of it. However, it is surprising how many of these books were written within less than two years.

The Princess Companion is a unique take on a fairy tale that doesn't have many other adaptations, aside from the obscure 2002 animated Princess and the Pea film. It is a less magical story than the movie adaptation and a less suspenseful one than Margaret Peterson Haddix or Jessica Day George's trilogies, but it still has its charms. The novel is about a woodcutter's daughter named Alyssa who seeks refuge at a castle on a stormy night. Due to a misunderstanding, she spends the night in the "Princess Room," where she notices something uncomfortable under the mattress but is too polite to say anything about it. Despite all this, the king and queen are impressed with her and offer her a job as the royal "princess companion," taking care of their two twin daughters, Lily and Sophie. Alyssa just happens to be very skilled at reading people and telling stories, which she uses to her advantage. The rambunctious young princesses take to her instantly, and she uses her made-up fairy tales to teach them proper behavior.

As these stories usually tend to go, the queen and king also have an older son named Max who is instantly taken with Alyssa. Alyssa's skills at reading people seem to fall conveniently short when it comes to her own romantic pursuers. I have to admit this bugged me a little because Alyssa's strong instincts made her unique as a character, but her inability to see that Max returned her affections makes her no different than any other princess in this sort of situation and contradicts a key aspect of her personality. Max's obvious interest in Alyssa creates a big stir at court, causing feelings of jealousy and intrigue amount the many ladies and servants. Regardless, their secret feelings toward each other are put aside for political purposes, as the queen is determined to form a royal alliance between Max and a princess of her choosing.

The queen's mental state also plays a large role in the story. She is a fallen Cinderella, who lost all faith in herself after taking a huge leap in status when she married the man who is now king. That was something I really enjoyed about The Princess Companion. Despite the many adaptations there have been of the "Cinderella" fairy tale, none of them ever focus on what her life is like after she marries the prince and transitions from rags to riches. Even though The Princess Companion is told from Alyssa's perspective, Queen Eleanor often seems like a much more interesting and complex character, whose thoughts and actions are often shrouded in mystery. I think I would really enjoy a book told from her perspective.

The concept of the pea is downplayed a great deal in this "Princess and the Pea" adaptation to the point where we never even see the magical item through Alyssa's eyes. There are only two mattresses, as opposed to twenty, and the pea itself is only mentioned briefly at the end of the book. Therefore, the rather predictable payoff is far less rewarding than it could be. It is established early on that Alyssa bruises easily and has a low tolerance for pain, which explains why she is able to feel a pea under two mattresses, but it is only assumed that it was the pea that made her uncomfortable in the end so much time has passed from her initial stay in the Princess Room by that point. Its magical properties are a passing notion given in a rushed explanation to a happy ending. Given that this is a fairy tale adaptation, I would have preferred to see more magical feats from Alyssa's perspective.

I found the book mostly enjoyable despite its lack of fantasy and intrigue. It was fun reading about the playful antics of Sophie and Lily and how they enjoyed treating Alyssa like a doll and forcing her to wear extravagant gowns that she would not have otherwise never deemed herself worthy of. There was some excitement during the climax, but the ultimate outcome was pretty obvious. Parts of it dragged on a bit too much, but they were redeemed by Alyssa's unique personality, Sophie and Lily's bubbliness, and the constant tease of a potential romance with Max. Overall, this was not the best modern fairy tale adaptation I have ever read, but it was still enjoyable as far as princess novels go. It made me curious enough to check out some of the other books in the series, so you might see reviews of those here soon as well.


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