Review: The Mystery Princess

The Mystery Princess is the latest installment in Melanie Cellier's Return to the Four Kingdoms series. It contains many references to characters and events from her other fairy tale adaptations including The Princess Fugitive, A Dream of Ebony and White, and The Secret Princess. This book follows the same format as Melanie's other books in which a capable young lady intercepts a royal conspiracy, saves the day, and falls in love with a prince. Though it might be a bit predictable after all the other books she wrote that take place in this setting, that doesn't mean that it isn't interesting. Not only is this the first of Melanie's books to feature a dark-skinned heroine on the cover, but it is also a unique take on "Cinderella" that changes many elements of the timeworn fairy tale to keep it fresh while remaining true to the heart of the story.

The Mystery Princess by Melanie Cellier

Like all of Melanie's fairy tale books, The Mystery Princess has a protagonist that long-time readers were introduced to earlier in the series. Daria, or "Dee" as she goes by in this book, was one of the seven children that Princess Snow stayed with for protection in her "Snow White" retelling, A Dream of Ebony and White. Dee was the oldest of the children and acted as their caretaker before Snow showed up and offered to use her kingdom's resources to protect them. A few years later, however, Dee is involved in a caravan raid from the first book in this arc, The Secret Princess. As a result, she goes into hiding with a kind woman named Lilah, who unofficially adopts her as her stepdaughter. Dee immediately enters "mom" mode and helps Lilah with the chores and taking care of her spoiled daughter, Tallie, who becomes a little sister to her. This goes on for a couple of years until Dee's life is interrupted by a royal conspiracy that forces her to stop running away.

What makes this story unique as a "Cinderella" retelling is that Dee's surrogate family is kind and loving toward her, and the villain has nothing to do with them. The book follows the same skeletal structure of the fairy tale with Dee's stepmother refusing to let her go to the ball, but she does it to protect Dee rather than hurt her. As soon as she learns that there is an evil prince roaming the forests, Lilah is determined to do everything in her power to protect her two daughters from running into danger. At the first dance that she bans them from, it is actually Dee's stepsister, Tallie, who sneaks off to the party while Dee obeys her stepmother's command and runs into Prince Percy when she wanders through the forest looking for Tallie. Giving Dee more private time to become acquainted with the prince because she didn't attend the dance instead of having her meet him in a big distracting crowd is a clever twist on the classic tale.

The wicked Prince Damon is a far more terrifying villain than an evil stepmother could ever be. He is determined to kill the queen of Rangmere to take the throne and will stop at nothing until he gets it. He has a magic relic that makes him impervious to physical attacks, making him one of the strongest villains in any of the Four Kingdoms books. The only reason that Dee is able to get away from him with her life intact is that he is oblivious to human compassion and assumes that she wants revenge on the royals for abandoning her. She plays along to protect herself and must learn to trust in her friends and loved ones to let them help her save the kingdom, a task that becomes too daunting for her alone. Trust is a major overarching theme in this book. Not only must Dee learn to place her trust in Percy for a chance at a happy life with him, but she must also convince Lilah to trust her and Tallie enough to give up her overprotective nature and let them attend the royal ball. In that respect, it adds a deeper element to the "Cinderella" story that makes it even more meaningful in the end.

The Mystery Princess has the same level of quality, romance, and action as all of Melanie Cellier's other fairy tale books. If you are a fan of any of her previous Four Kingdoms books, you will enjoy this one as well. It is actually her third "Cinderella" adaptation in this series, but it is the first full-length one and by far the strongest. It doesn't follow the fairy tale in the traditional sense, which gives it the freedom for surprise twists and new developments. Dee is a great character who is easy to relate to, so I was eager to see what direction her adventures would take her next and watch her grow into a graceful young woman who learns to let other people into her life instead of trying to run away from her problems. It was also a pleasant surprise to see the return of Arvin, the comedic talking horse from The Secret Princess that made the book so deliciously entertaining.


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