FICTION

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

illus. by Todd Harris. 424p. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. May 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-211743-4; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-211744-1.
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Gr 4–6—The premise in this debut novel is that the princes in the "Cinderella," "Snow White," "Rapunzel," and "Sleeping Beauty" stories resent their relative anonymity (they're all just known as "Prince Charming") and want some recognition. Then, too, that "happily ever after" thing isn't working for any of them, so the princes and their princesses set off to rectify matters. The eight of them team up in assorted permutations throughout the ensuing slapstick proceedings. Unfortunately, it all becomes tiresomely repetitive. Though it might be funny once for people to fall over and knock into other people who fall over… and over and over like dominoes, it stops being amusing pretty quickly. It's understandable that Healy's characters are broadly drawn. They are, after all, fairy-tale personae. But more than 400 pages of the obsessive-compulsive prince, the ridiculously macho prince, the overachieving prince, and the extremely stupid prince and their equally one-dimensional princesses are a lot to plow through, especially when things are left so unresolved that readers suspect a sequel is in the offing.—Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
Four Prince Charmings--strapping Gustav, who keeps an eye out for Rapunzel; gallant Liam, who is promised to Briar Rose whether he likes it or not; Cinderella's timid, foppish Frederic; and Snow White's eccentric, annoying Duncan--discover that evils are afoot in the woods. Witty banter, movie-ready descriptions, cartoony illustrations, and nonstop action help make this fairy-tale mash-up highly entertaining.
A unique fairy-tale retelling. Various stories (“Rapunzel,” “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Cinderella”) converge, united by a single wicked witch, and the focus is turned from the damsels in distress to their unsung—and unknown—heroes. Plenty of action, adventure, romance, and humor ensure wide-ranging appeal. Christopher Healy has a gift for the absurd: “Duncan let his quirkiness flow freely. He organized his toothpick collection alphabetically (they were all filed under T); he practiced sitting upside-down; he loudly yelled out the name of every animal that ran through their yard (not the type of animal it was, but the actual name he thought it should have, like ‘Chester,’ ‘Skippy,’ or ‘J. P. McWiggins’).” The princes’ conflicting personalities are hilarious (“All the princes had their issues—Frederic was easily intimidated, Liam’s ego could stand to be reined in a bit, and Gustav could use some impulse control—but Duncan was flat-out strange.”), and it’s satisfying when the four heroes turn their flaws into assets in order to save the day. The ending of the novel hints at a sequel, which kids will greatly anticipate.
Darn those bards, those spinmeisters with their princess-centric tales that shunt the ladies' romantic counterparts off to the side. What, debut author Healy wants to know, about the guys? Determined to rectify earlier troubadours' narrative failings, he introduces us to four Prince Charmings (or Princes Charming, depending on your grammatical druthers): strapping Gustav, who keeps an eye out for Rapunzel; gallant Liam, who is promised to Briar Rose whether he likes it or not; Cinderella's timid, foppish Frederic, whose sartorial tastes cause him to look like a "deranged doorman"; and Snow White's eccentric, annoying Duncan, who likes to "organize his toothpick collection alphabetically (they were all filed under T)." This motley crew of heroes stumble upon one another and then head off to find Ella, who seems to have disappeared. But after bumbling from tower to tower in the fairy-tale woods in which this irreverent story is set, they discover that bigger evils are afoot. Encounters with a pint-sized robber king and his minions, a gentlemanly giant, a dangerous dragon, vegetarian trolls, dour dwarves, and a nasty witch -- along with much witty banter, movie-ready descriptions, cartoony illustrations, and nonstop action -- make this fairy-tale mashup highly entertaining. monica edinger

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