Review: Peas and Princesses

I was recently offered an opportunity to read and review the new book Peas and Princesses by up-and-coming author Aleese Hughes. Just as it sounds, the book is an original adaptation of the fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea." However, the cutesy title is somewhat misleading when it comes to the tone of the story. The book's villain is truly terrifying and does some awful things, so I would hesitate to recommend it for younger princess fans. Outside of that, it's a quick and fun read for young adults who enjoy fairy tale adaptations. The protagonist is easy to relate and winds up in a similar situation to the main character in last year's Netflix movie, The Princess Switch.

Peas and Princesses is about a village girl named Milly who is forced to enter a competition to replace the kingdom's princess after she ran away. In that respect, it is reminiscent of Shannon Hale's Princess Academy but much darker. This book focuses on the common desire for princesses to be free by placing a cold and heartless king in charge of their fate. King Leopold is among the most wicked villains I have ever encountered in a fairy tale adaptation. I wished there was more substance to his character. From the very beginning of the book, he kills without mercy and seems to have no justification for his actions. It's no wonder Princess Amelia ran away! If this book were longer, I would have liked to see more interactions between Amelia and her father so I would have a better grasp of his human side as well as her motivation to get away.

From Milly's perspective, Peas and Princesses feels like a horror story, which is an unusual, though not unheard of, choice for a fairy tale adaptation. Milly is kidnapped, exposed to the suffering of those she cares about, and forced to replace the princess against her will. There were times that I felt her reactions to witnessing such traumatic events are underplayed, but her situation improves later when she meets the prince that she is betrothed to. I wish Milly had been a more active protagonist. It seems like she only did something if another person suggested it to or coerced her. Princess Amelia is more active in her decisions, even though we barely got to see her. I think I would enjoy reading a spin-off book from Amelia's perspective.

I think that the gratuitous deaths in this book make it inappropriate for anyone under the age of 16. If you enjoy things like Game of Thrones and want to read a story with a softer protagonist, this book might be good for you. The romantic elements of the story are clean and sweet, but I found myself wishing that Milly had wound up with her first love interest instead of the boring and predictable one. There were some magical elements in the book, but they were few and far between, so I wouldn't compare it to authors like J.M. Stengl and A.G. Marshall, whose stories are bursting with magic. There was one mysterious side character who was revealed to be a Fairy Godmother of sorts, which leaves room for future fairy tale adaptations if Aleese decides to turn this into a series.

Overall, Peas and Princesses is a quick and enjoyable read about the trials and tribulations of becoming a princess. It is more of a gender-swapped retelling of "The Prince and the Pauper" than it is "The Princess and the Pea" because of the focus on a common girl switching places with a princess. The villain is pure evil, making for some gruesome deaths that younger readers might want to avoid. If you can get past that and enjoy princess stories, this book might be a good fit for you.


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