Dec 11 2008
Dear Ms. Baker,
As I wandered through my local bookstore, the title of this book caught my eye. I love fairy tales retold from a modern perspective, given slight twists or are just cute. The cover, and that of the many sequels, certainly fits the cute profile. Alas, the book itself didn’t live up to my hopes.
Princess Emeralda loves to escape to the swamp that borders the castle where she lives. Since she rarely lives up to her mother’s expectations, this is often. It’s here that she finds a talking frog who claims that he’s a prince. Prince Eadric can’t prove to Emma that he truly is a prince so she’s reluctant to give him the kiss he asks for. That is until her mother decides to arrange Emma’s marriage to ghastly Prince Jorge. She’d rather kiss a frog then Jorge and in a fit of pique, she does.
Only instead of turning him back into the prince he claims to be, Emma becomes a frog as well. Well, now what are they supposed to do? Eadric has an idea. If they can find the witch he insulted and who then frogged him, maybe they’ll learn what went wrong since witches are bound to tell their victims the terms of any curse. Only these two are in for a rough time since talking frogs are on the list of ingredients needed to cast a certain spell and there’s a witch who wants to do just that.
The book falls curiously flat and took me far longer than it should have to become engaged in the story. There are some nice touches such as the crystal butterflies which alight on Aunt Grassina’s gem flowers and the light orbs which bob across her ceiling but most of the rest of the story is just sort of there. I never felt the oppressive gloom of the forest nor terror at being stuck in the witch Vannabe’s cottage. And some details, such as the nasty swim across the moat and the two frogs landing in dog pee in the castle throne room were just gross for no purpose.
There is almost an excess of detail in certain places – such as Emma learning to catch flies with her tongue or the varied animals, complete with names and habits in the witch’s lair – that dragged on without any purpose. Sure we learn that the captive mice finish each other’s sentences but why is that important? One of the spiders specialized in knots but how does that add to the story? Eadric hauls a vial of dragon’s breath – which I thought was cool sounding – through the forest only to have it basically disappear from the tale with no fanfare, unused by anyone for anything.
Emma’s mother, Queen Chartreuse, comes down hard on Emma, ragging her about her clumsiness but we don’t see enough of her or endure along with Emma enough of her scolding to make us care. Something is revealed about Emma’s parents’ marriage but, again, why? What’s done with it?
Some of the character names sounded off. I’m not sure if they were supposed to be funny – and might actually be funny to a child – but most of them just made me grimace. L’il Stinker the bat, Bright Country the horse, the witch Vannabe. None were clever, none were funny to me and all sounded corny at best.
The basis of Emma’s transformation to a frog made sense once it was explained and the lessons learned that friends aren’t always as you first imagine they’ll be nor whom you think are nicely done. Emma grows as a person and learns from her time as a frog. Eadric turns out to be a rather ordinary looking young man but both he and Emma have learned to see beyond the surface of people. But the story never really grabbed me, never became more than yet another unconventional princess tale. Some sections moved along at a sprightly pace but far more became a slog through the narrative that felt as if I were hopping all day through a forest, desperate to just get through.
I think young readers might enjoy having this story read to them. Perhaps the humor won’t fall as flatly as it did for me. But for older readers or adults, I think there are much more entertaining books using similar themes and plots than this one. When I found this book on the shelves of my local bookstore, I was excited to see there were several sequels. After reading it, I can only say that anyone who enjoyed this has more books they can read. I won’t be among them. C-