Review: The Rogue Princess

I'm kicking off 2023 with a review of the second gender-bent retelling of "Puss and Boots" that I've read, The Rogue Princess by Melanie Cellier. This is the latest in her Return to the Four Kingdoms series, the third book collection in an ever-growing list of fairy tale retellings with plenty of familiar faces from previous books. It is the second book since The Secret Princess to incorporate a talking animal, which I am finding that Melanie Cellier is quite skilled at writing about. Both Puss and Arvin are humorous Disney-style sidekicks that can lighten the mood of any story. As far as adaptations of talking animals go, "Puss in Boots" is the quintessential fairy tale.

The Rogue Princess tells the story of a miller's daughter named Kali who lives in the desert kingdom that was discovered in one of its prequels, The Desert Princess. Kali agrees to a mysterious quest accompanying an enchanted talking cat across the desert to the kingdom of Lanover after her brother refused to make the journey. Puss is a clever and cunning cat who was sent to Earth from the Palace of Light where the fairy godmothers of this world reside. His well-meaning arrogance is a perfect match for Arvin, the talking horse in The Secret Princess, whose success in helping another princess gave Puss the opportunity to take on this new mission. Over time, Kali learns to trust Puss's judgment even though he never gives an explanation for any task he assigns her until after it is complete, which gets frustrating to her at times.

While I enjoyed this book overall, the romance was a little cringy even though it followed the original fairy tale. When Kali meets her love interest, Xavier, for the first time, she believes he had abandoned her after promising to find her stolen pack and a new outfit when she was attacked and robbed. She is rightfully angry with him throughout most of the book. Yet, he shows little interest in learning the true source of her anger, taking amusement in all of their encounters, particularly when Puss tricks her into bathing, steals all of her clothing, and goes to Xavier for help so she can eventually be dressed in fine clothes by the royals at the palace. I was particularly pleased to see Evie from The Princess Search, one of the original Four Kingdoms books, make a comeback in this story since her passion for designing beautiful clothing was something I greatly admired. It was charming to see her happily living out her days as crown princess and being so kind and understanding with Kali.

Unlike the last book in this series, which was a bit of a mess, I liked how well the "Puss in Boots" fairy tale blends into the world of the Four Kingdoms. I think the biggest benefit is that it is a simpler story than "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," which makes it easier to mold into the type of book that Melanie likes to write. She's so skilled at creating clever animal sidekicks that I'm surprised she's only done it two times in over a dozen books. When the reason for Puss's plotting is finally revealed at the end of the story, I was genuinely surprised by the twist and found that it made for a satisfying fairy tale ending. I also liked that the book had a clear villain, though he didn't turn out to be much of a threat in the end, and that it set up potential enemies for future books. It fits perfectly into the expanding world of the Four Kingdoms and includes tons of references to characters from previous books as a treat to those of us who have read them all.

The Rogue Princess is a fantastic female-driven retelling of "Puss in Boots" with lots of clever twists and surprises along the way. This is my second favorite book in the Return to the Four Kingdoms series next to The Secret Princess, which also had a comedic talking animal. Even though Puss never got his own pair of boots in this story, he was an endlessly entertaining sidekick with a master plan that would shock anyone into submission. I would recommend this book to any fairy tale fan who is looking for something light and humorous to kick off the new year with.


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