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REVIEW: The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison

The Princess and the Hound Mette Ivie HarrisonDear Miss Harrison,

About one year ago, I had the pleasure of first discovering your novel, The Princess and the Hound, through my amazing school library. Now, a year later, the ARC of The Princess and the Snowbird is happily coming to me through the mail, and in preparation, I have decided to reread this old favorite.

The cover and back blurbs for your book fit together quite well, especially the main description:

"Beauty and the Beast retold – but the Beast is a woman"

It all fit together so perfectly, I had to pick up your novel.

While the premise is assumed to star Princess Beatrice, we actually find ourselves in the eyes of Prince George, her betrothed. For the first one hundred pages or so, we are treated to a fable about King Richon and the Wild Man, as well as George's boyhood. You set the stage well, by introducing him as someone   special, which is one of the many things that I have come to love about your tale. While he is a prince, you don't focus on his royalty as something major to his character, which is admirable. Instead, you focus on his ability to use the "animal magic', which allows him to learn the language of wild animals. We trod through his past leisurely, learning of characters such as his mother, who has the magic also. She teaches him to hide it from the cruel people of the kingdom, as they believe it to be evil. When she dies, you treat us to his other relationships, which are all fleshed out.

About a quarter of the way through, we get to the meat of the story, the real reason for reading. This is where you caught me as a reader. Prince George travels to Sarrey, the neighboring kingdom, to meet the woman he is going to marry in honor of his kingdom. And it's all because his father is getting ill, and George feels the need to do his duty. Not so romantic.

The traveling isn't much different. It's all standard medieval world travel fair, including meeting up with a man near-wild from the animal magic, until we get to the meeting scene. I'm a stickler for a good hero/heroine's first meeting with their one true love. And it's written beautifully.

He stopped short at the sight of a woman with streaming red hair coming toward the castle with a wild hound at her side. If George was not mistaken, it was the same wild hound he had dreamed of the night before.

But who was this woman? Her face wore a strangely distant expression. There was some old hurt in her, but from the way she held her head, she seemed used to pride. Her clothing was as rumpled as George's. The dress was cut with feminine frills that seemed entirely out of place on her. Yet she was beautiful, in a sharp and startling way.

He stared at her as she came closer.

She stopped when she came to him, then stared back unabashedly. "Prince George,' she said. There was no warmth in her voice.

How had she guessed who he was?

Then it came to him, and he flushed with embarrassment.

"Princess Beatrice,' he said with a nod. How could it have taken him so long to recognize her? The hound should have been a giveaway from the first moment. But the dream had confused him. The wolfish hound in his dream had been no pet.

The woman looked down at her hound, as if to see herself in those deep brown eyes. Then she nodded and said, "Yes. I am Princess Beatrice.'

There are so many wonderful characterizations up to this point – but Beatrice and her hound, Merit, take the cake.   Beatrice is unusually difficult, even by the new trend of spunky female leads seen today in young adult fiction, but she has moments of genuine softness that reflect a well-developed personae, and prevent the reader from finding her annoying.      Merit is much the same, but more soft than difficult.

The budding relationship between George and Beatrice is developed in much the same way; an odd balance that works.   It leaves much to be deciphered, but it’s plain to the reader that there is definite affection between the two.   With a submissive hero and aloof heroine, the relationship becomes a good motivator for reading through the story, even though the plot begins to become sporadic.

George then meets his future father-in-law, who is boorish and wanted a son and never got one, going through three wives and only being left with Beatrice. Not exactly the most original, but Beatrice's interesting character is worth the rather cliché situation. After spending time at the castle, George has constant dreams that are more like memories of Beatrice. It confuses him, as does his growing relationship with the girl and her hound, which is really where the novel shines. The confusing relationship baffles the reader in many ways too, but it's positively addicting. Even after learning secrets and things that seem to explain George's feelings, his love for Beatrice and Merit is confusing, which makes the story all the more realistic.

The plot is interesting enough, with figuring out who inflicted the illness on George's father, to trying to discover the purpose behind the bizarre attachment between Beatrice and Merit, but the small things, such as Beatrice's humiliation of a childhood tormentor of George, are what really make it worth reading. In a sense, the novel creates a romance that manages to reverse some of the gender roles we see so much in faux-medieval settings. Beatrice and Merit are strong and callous, though emotionally raw, and George is the one who is gentle and kind and protected.

While the novel has many good things about it, such as beautiful prose and wonderful characters, the plot is half-hearted and slow in some areas. Not to mention, the way it's written will turn off some readers. It's a literary fairy-tale, which is an interesting genre mix, but it doesn't appeal to everyone. Side-characters can come off as cliché, and some of the mysteries are easily solved chapters before the characters ever work them out, but for the most part, you manage to create a vivid character novel. Its attempts at being driven by plot, however, just don't stack up with the type of writing that's incorporated.

If the review were purely on self-enjoyment, this book would be an easy A. However, the fact that it's hard for some to get into or comprehend, along with some of its more clichéd romantic fantasy tropes, lowers it to a wavering B/B-. Despite these new-found flaws in your first novel, I still eagerly await the coming of The Princess and the Snowbird, and hopefully I will be in for another pleasant surprise among the pile of teen paranormals that crowd the market. Your first novel was original and innovative, and was well worth a look despite some flaws.

John.

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Ever since a good friend brought him a copy of Johanna Lindsey's Gentle Rogue, he has been hooked on the romance genre. Though he primarily reads in young-adult, he loves to spend time with paranormal, historical, and contemporary adult titles in-between books. Now, he finds himself juggling book reviews, school band, writing, and finding time to add to his TBR pile.

14 Comments

  1. Barb in MD
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 07:06:21

    Looks like you missed The Princess and the Bear, which came out last year. It is the King Richon story and is fabulous. The writing is tighter that Princess and the Hound. Princess and Bear is not a sequel, but more of s parallel book to Princess and Hound.
    I have The Princess and the Snowbird on my must get list.

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  2. John J.
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 07:26:53

    That’s what I was refering to in the review – I missed it. It’s on my to-read-list. :) And that note from Jane didn’t erase. :( Same here – I’ll post the review as soon as my copy comes in the mail. Fingers crossed it’s even better.

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  3. Bianca
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 07:51:48

    Great review. These books look very interesting, and I had no idea they even existed prior to reading your review.

    Definitely adding to my (already monstrously huge) TBR pile. :)

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  4. John J.
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 08:00:00

    They are. Out of the huge teen market, they are a personal favorite of mine despite their flaws. I’m also excited to say that Harrison is working on a new series starting in 2011 that sounds very good as well!

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  5. Estara
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 14:31:30

    I’ve been interested in these books since I saw the beautiful covers, but your current review has highlighted some of the downsides so I’ll wait to hear further reviews about the later books – especially since this isn’t a series and I don’t have to read it in order.

    re: Jane’s note on your writing – on the one hand it’s fun to read internal memos on editing, on the other hand it really disrupted the flow of reading your review… maybe next time add that at the end of the review or keep it internal?

    Oh and welcome to the reviewers of DA – I enjoy the fact that we get to read a male point-of-view as well.

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  6. Jane
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 14:38:42

    @John J. Sorry about that John. I was really intrigued by your review. And thanks for contributing.

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  7. John
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 15:47:32

    Haha, don’t worry about it, Jane. I swear I removed that thing five times and it wouldn’t respond. No biggie. Again, I’m glad you liked the review. I rarely reread books, so being able to do so and get through the whole thing made the reading experience highlight some interesting points

    @Estara
    Yes, the covers for her books have all been so amazing. And, yes, the first book has some flaws. But if you do ever read and enjoy her other ones, you will find yourself picking it up. They all intertwine and she knows her world’s history and myth quite well.

    Funny enough, my new box of review books from Teens Read Too came today, and The Princess and the Snowbird is officially in a TBR. :) It looks good, but it’s about 250 pages, almost half of this one. Hopefully this means it’s a tighter plot.

    And thanks for the welcome! Hopefully more males begin to enjoy romance – it’s really just an amazing genre to read in.

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  8. Janine
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 19:13:10

    What a nice review! And welcome, John.

    ReplyReply

  9. John
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 19:17:33

    Thanks, Janine! :) Glad to be here on DA. It’s one of the best book review blogs out there!

    ReplyReply

  10. Rosario
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 23:56:11

    This sounds really good. I’ve only recently started reading YA… making up for the fact that I jumped straight to regular fiction when I was growing up! No such thing as a YA genre in Spanish back then. I hear there’s a lot more out there now, but nothing as fresh and different as this.

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  11. Amy
    Apr 29, 2010 @ 00:43:40

    I can’t seem to gain enough interest in the YA genre to actually buy a YA book for my TBR pile. The only YA novels I’ve read since I left my teenage years are the Harry Potter books. But I wanted to post a message to say I enjoyed reading a review of a romance novel from a male perspective.

    I recall reading your first comment on DA, and until your post, it just never occurred to me that teen males would read romance novels. Of course, the thought that now comes to mind is “Well, duh, young males watch movies involving romances, so why wouldn’t they also read romance novels?” I look forward to reading more reviews by you.

    And yes, I agree with you that DA is one of the best romance book review blogs on the web. I’ve checked out a few other similar blogs on occasion, but DA is the only one bookmarked on my browser and the only one I visit daily.

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  12. John
    Apr 29, 2010 @ 07:52:47

    @Rosario
    There is, you just have to be on the lookout! Look at some of the other YA reviews on here – there are some amazing books, like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. If you ever need suggestions, email me or Jia/another YA reviewer. The market is growing at a fast rate, and there are always new books coming out.

    @Amy
    Again, Thirteen Reasons Why. If you don’t like the general genre, then at least try some of the hard hitters, or books that cross with other genres. If you like fantasy, try Graceling and Fire by Kristen Cashore. They are amazingly written, and have wonderfully smexy romances. ^^
    Really, a lot of males don’t, which is sad. Sure, the few male readers (and there need to be more of those too, but that’s another rant entirely) who read John Green or male authors get it subliminally, but I think the market just turns off a lot of serious male readers. I’ve always been a book-a-holic, and I’m gay and feminine and have so many cliches that can have people ignore my interest – but it really does apply to a lot of male issues. Plus, the male heros are great for escapism in their own right.
    It is. For some reason, the YA blogosphere is great and has a lot of worthy websites, but romance is kind of…left out.
    And my next review will be for Charlotte Featherstone’s Sinful, so hopefully you will have more interest in the review. ^^

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  13. Estara
    Apr 29, 2010 @ 15:21:17

    @Rosario: OOOH you have such a treat before you now! Enjoy ^^. I never stopped reading YA, but heavily read into adult fantasy and sf (and of course romance) for years and only kept track of the ya authors I had known when I was ya-age myself, so it was such a pleasure to discover as an adult the likes of Tamora Pierce, Sherwood Smith (who also does adult fantasy), Megan Whalen Turner (though I’m not really sure her fantasy actually is YA…), etc., etc.

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  14. cories
    May 04, 2010 @ 20:18:32

    What I remember about this book, which I read over a year ago, is that it depressed the hell out of me. Your review is way more informative than mine.

    ReplyReply

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