In a light and humorous twist on the usual fairy tale, the very nice but plain princess Jennifer and the handsome but arrogant prince, Alexander, go through some very interesting adventures in the enchanted woods. Jennifer, on a mission to rescue Alexander from his own stupidity, meets the uncomnmon sorcerer Norman, the Old Witch, a tongue-tied dragon, a mentally-challenged giant, and the source of evil in the forest. There are black and white illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman throughout-- surely a coincidence that she also drew the dustjackets of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles? A comparison is apt; they're similar in style and setting, and both are extremely entertaining.
A WELL-TIMED ENCHANTMENT
When Deanna drops her Mickey Mouse watch into the old wishing well, she sets off an unexpected series of events. The Mickey Mouse watch, dropped into a medieval world, would start the worship of the mouse in Europe, prolonging the plague (for not killing off the rats)...and so on. The elves who pull Deanna into this medieval world give her twenty-four hours to retrieve her watch...or time will start to unravel. Her cat, Oliver, is pulled into the strange world with her-- changed into a human. With a hilarious cast of characters such as a not-so-wicked wizard, two idiotic brothers, a vain woman who fancies she's in love with Oliver, these aren't the best of circumstances for retrieving a lost watch. Oh well... Lighter and goofier in tone than A Hidden Dragon, and I still crack up every time I read about the blue--er, purpleberries.
When sixteen year old Alys is wrongly accused of witchcraft by her greedy neighbor, she is tied to the stake and left for dragon food. The dragon, however, is not all he appears to be. Selendrile can change into a human at will-- a charming, elusive young man. He promises to help Deanna get revenge on her neighbors. But revenge never quite works out the way it's supposed to...
THE CHANGELING PRINCE
The Changeling Prince is the story of Weiland, who is only human when the sorceress Daria chooses to change him from his natural wolf shape. At sixteen, he has already learned to survive at all costs against Daria's cruel whims and his brutal companions. Life in Daria's hall with her other creatures (bears, birds, mice all turned into humans) is harsh, but it takes a drastic turn for the worst when Daria decides to take her changelings to town with her. While masquerading as one of the bodyguards, Weiland discovers Daria's insidious plans and true identity. He also learns the value of human companionship and kindness. Weiland finds he must make a decision: keep quiet and watch Daria destroy an innocent family, or tell his new friends about Daria and risk her punishment. Or worse, at her death, be transformed back into a wolf for the rest of his life...
THE CONJURER PRINCESS
The Conjurer Princess takes place some ten years after the events of The Changeling Prince. At her sister Beryl's wedding, Lylene watches in horror as an invading lord kills Beryl's husband and kidnaps Beryl. After half a year, when no one seems to be taking action against this crime, she decides to go by herself and rescue Beryl. She first goes to the wizard Harkta to learn magic from her, but the magic has unexpected side effects... However, armed with her newly acquired powers of conjuring a temporary fetch of anything, Lylene is ready to take on the world. On the road, accompanied by two mercenaries named Weiland and Shile, she must separate friend from foe and find the truths in a world where nothing is as it seems. A fairy tale gone very, very wrong. The two books in this series are quite a lot darker than VVV's other books, and aimed for a slightly older audience. The wit within is heavily ironic, and the characters and world are more realistic. If you can find an SFBC omnibus edition, Spellbound, you can also read a short story, "Just another dragon-slaying," about the characters set after The Conjurer Princess.
THE RUMPELSTILTSKIN PROBLEM
Rumpelstiltskin seems to be to VVV what Beauty and the Beast is to Robin McKinley. This collection of stories is somewhat unusual in that all the stories are by VVV, and all the stories retell Rumpelstiltskin. Her intro is actually thoroughly as amusing as the stories themselves; she picks apart the logic of the original fairy tale and reveals huge gaps. Why *did* Rumpelstiltskin spin a room full of gold for a single gold ring? The stories are all unique and laced with VVV's wit. Only one has been printed before: "Straw into Gold." It remains my favorite.
A companion novel to User Unfriendly, though knowledge of one isn't necessary for the other. Which is good, because I thought User Unfriendly was a really unsatisfactory mishmash of too many things. However, Heir Apparent is a tremendous improvement in pace, structure, and character. It's technically science fiction, but since it's set in a typical medieval RPG setting, often feels more like fantasy. Giannine is a smart, sarcastic heroine, and the rest is all very typically Vivian Vande Velde-- wit, ambiguity, great dialogue, and so forth. It's especially fun when she starts to Kick Butt in a serious way. Yes, read it!
MAGIC CAN BE MURDER
A nice combination of mystery, fantasy, and romance. Nola is a teenager with the ability to see things in water and take others' appearances, which makes her very nervous about being accused of witchcraft-- even more so when she magically observes a murder. It's not one of my absolute favorites, as the characters are slightly underdeveloped and the ending a little neater than it might be, but it's overall a charming little confection done with typical VVV flourish and offering some food for thought. Other books
These are ones I don't remember as well, haven't read recently, or didn't like that well: Tales from the Brothers Grimm and Sisters Weird: an entertaining collection of retold fairy tales, typical light weight VVV; Never Trust a Dead Man: the protagonist is accused of a murder he didn't commit; his task is to find out who did do it...along with the ghost of the murdered man who also cherishes some curiosity on that account. An interesting witch, and her usual lively prose, but it seemed a trifle disjointed, and the main characters were less interesting than the minor characters; Companions of the Night: a teen vampire story with a pretty cool vampire, but a little too close to the YA generic horror genre for my taste.
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