Review: The Lady and the Wish

Thanks to J.M. Stengl's Advance Readers list, I had the privilege of being one of the first to read the latest addition to her Faraway Castle series, The Lady and the Wish. I believe this book will be available to the public next week, so my review will be just a bit early for those of you who are interested in reading it right away. Unlike the other three books in the series, which were based on popular fairy tales that have had many adaptations created, The Lady and the Wish is inspired by the obscure Grimm fairy tale "King Thrushbeard," which I had never seen adapted in book or media format before this point. I was familiar with the fairy tale prior to reading this book, but it had never been one of my favorites, which might be why I didn't enjoy The Lady and the Wish quite as much as the other Faraway Castle books. Regardless, it was still a very creative and original take on the story while still remaining faithful to its theme of a prideful woman's capacity to learn humility after adjusting to a less extravagant lifestyle.

The Lady and the Wish is the story of Lady Gillian, who starts out as a bit of a snob but is by no means beyond redemption. Though she wasn't mean-spirited or difficult to relate to as I feared, she still didn't possess the magical qualities of the heroines from the previous three books, which made her less interesting to me. I guess I got a little spoiled after reading about a girl who maintained magical creatures, a girl who was really a mermaid, and a girl who could control plants. Gillian is more like your average modern teenager who is obsessed with social media. The world of Faraway Castle brilliantly incorporates modern customs with fairy tale elements by maintaining the nobility class system of the past in today's world at a castle resort that blocks cell phone service. Since most of this book takes place outside the resort, there is a lot more about Gillian checking posts on social media and obsessing over how many "likes" she gets from princes she was interested in. Spending time away from her life at court to serve a senile old woman with a troublesome magical ability helps Gillian to realize how superficial her friends are.

Just like the "King Thrushbeard" fairy tale, the book starts off with Gillian rejecting a proposal from a prince because of her repulsion to his beard that looks like a bird's nest. She learns later that the proposal was set up by her family because they are heavily in debt, so she agrees to work for the eccentric Lady Beneventi in order to restore their position. She is given the title of "companion" rather than "servant," but spending so much time around the elderly lady's other servants gives Gillian a kinship toward them. She gradually stops wearing pretty dresses in favor of more comfortable jeans and starts paying more attention to the people around her. It doesn't help that Lady Beneventi has a mysterious magical aura that grants her senile wishes every time she speaks them aloud. Some of them are harmless, such as bringing her late husband back from the dead, but others are dangerous to Gillian, such as when she finds herself magically cut off from the lady she was hired to accompany on more than one occasion. Fortunately, a mysterious helper from the estate named Manny is always willing to provide as much assistance to her as he can and is never more than a phone call or text message away.

I wasn't as big a fan of the romance in this book as the others, but that might have to do with the fact that I never thought "King Thrushbeard" was a particularly romantic fairy tale to begin with. The heroine in the fairy tale had no romantic interest in King Thrushbeard at the beginning of the story, and their relationship from that point on was based entirely on lies. This book thankfully made the romance a little more believable, but Manny did not appeal to me in the same way that the other love interests in the Faraway Castle series did. He was not as sincere as Omar from the first book, as grounded as Tor from the second book, or as passionate as Briar from the third book. It had always stood out to me how realistic J.M. Stengl makes her male love interests, and this one didn't quite get there. Part of the problem was that Gillian had so many other suitors that Manny was only the best by comparison and not because of any particular spark between them. There was even a Gaston-like character who attempted to force Gillian into a disturbing romantic relationship with him.

Overall, I would say that The Lady and the Wish feels more like a story about a modern-day teenager with some supernatural elements than like a fairy tale. It's a brilliant analysis of how social media can create superficiality and pride in certain types of people, and it's also a great story of growth and redemption for Gillian that mirrors the themes of the "King Thrushbeard" story. If you are a fan of the other books from Faraway Castle, this one is very different. There's less of a focus on magic and romance and more on personal growth. I found it to be more a character study than a magical and exciting adventure like in the first three books. Even though this is my least favorite book in the Faraway Castle series thus far, it is still clever and creative for what it was.


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