Review: True Princess

It's hard to find new retellings of "The Princess and the Pea" that don't stray too far from the original source material. That could be because the soft delicate princess presented in the original fairy tale is the exact opposite of how princesses are portrayed in modern media. Nevertheless, Kayla Eshbaugh does her best to honor the source material in her premiere fairy tale retelling, True Princess. This is the first book in The Cursed Kingdom Chronicles, which expands upon the world of fairy tales by making each princess's unique situation a curse on her kingdom created by the Ancients, a vengeful race of magic users. The premise is similar to Ever Cursed without all the misandry. Using this overarching narrative, the book provides a simple explanation as to why the princess from "The Princess and the Pea" was so delicate that she turned black and blue from a single pea being placed under her mattress.

True Princess is stereotypical in its presentation, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's rare to see a modern fairy tale adaptation that has a classic damsel in distress as a protagonist with a love interest who is kind, romantic, and worthy. Like most modern fairy tale adaptations, the book alternates between the perspectives of the main couple, Princess Elisianna and Prince Liam. Even though half the chapters are told from Liam's perspective, there isn't much to his character outside of wanting to marry a princess for the sake of his kingdom and falling in love with Elise. This is clearly Elise's story. The book expands upon with it would be like to be cursed with frailty. She must sleep on the most delicate pillows and take great care with her actions throughout the day lest she stumbles and injures herself. Fortunately, she is a privileged princess and has an entire castle staff devoted to her every need, so this doesn't present much of a problem for her. She spends most of her time sharpening her mind and dreaming of the physical activities that she can't do because of her condition.

Elise and Liam have a "meet cute" that is inspired by the original fairy tale. When her caravan is attacked on the way to a competition to win Liam's hand in marriage by proving she is a true princess, Elise finds herself battered and bruised and falls asleep in his sitting room. When he finds her, he assumes she is a servant due to her current state and is shocked when she proceeds to scold him about his lack of comfortable pillows and reveals that she is a princess. Unlike in the fairy tale, he believes her pretty quickly and devotes the rest of the book to making her stay as comfortable as possible. Much of their relationship progresses with snarky letters to each other in which she boasts about the comfort of her kingdom's pillows, and he continues trying to make up for his behavior on her first night. Elise's personality is not for everyone. She comes off as entitled and pretentious at times, but that is likely how she compensates for the physical weakness caused by her curse, and Liam doesn't seem to mind it.

My biggest issue with this book is the ending. Even though True Princess follows the source material pretty closely throughout, there was a bit of a "gotcha" moment at the end that didn't seem necessary and wasn't explained well. Without giving too much away, all I can say is that it involved time travel, which can be a sticky beast when it comes to fiction. As a result of that element, the book glosses over the iconic tower of mattresses from the fairy tale, which is something that rarely shows up in modern retellings despite being such a fun thing to imagine. That one transgression aside, everything else happens exactly how it should and sets the scene for future books that feature the other cursed princesses Elise met in the competition for Liam's hand, similar to how A.G. Marshall set up her Fairy Tale Adventures series.

Overall, True Princess is a mostly faithful retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale that doesn't shy away from what some might consider to be outdated stereotypes. It expands upon what it would be like for a privileged woman to grow up with a curse that doesn't allow her to participate in most physical activities and for a man to fall in love with such a woman and go to great lengths to protect her and make her happy. It's a lighthearted classic fairy tale that only struggles a moment when it tries to introduce new elements into the story. I think True Princess would be enjoyable for any fan of "The Princess and the Pea" that wishes to re-experience the story with an additional layer of detail.


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