Book: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
Last spring I ordered a bunch of books for the library. Seeing that my collection was a bit girl-heavy, I tried to find titles that would interest the boys. I came across this title and decided to give it a try.
Not so sure it fits my intended audience.
It turns out that this book is the second in a series. In the first, Princes Duncan, Frederic, Liam, and Gustav, who are all Prince Charmings to some fairy-tale heroine, have adventures related to their dedicated tales with some surprising results. Liam is Prince Charming to Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), and while the two are now engaged, Liam can’t stand his fiancée and is actually hiding from her. Gustav is Prince Charming to Rapunzel, but for a reason not disclosed in this book, the two of them are no longer together. Ella (aka Cinderella) is engaged to her Prince Charming, better known as Frederic, and Duncan did marry his fairy tale princess, Snow White. Duncan and Snow are actually pretty happy together, but Ella is not nearly as well suited to Frederic as she is to Liam.
Then there is the fact that all the Princes Charming, who call themselves the League of Princes, aren’t exactly hero material.
Well, perhaps Liam and Gustav are close. Liam wears his cape with flair, excels at sword fighting, is a natural leader, and brave to boot—except when it comes to facing his wedding-mad harridan of a fiancée. Gustav wants to be brave and heroic, and actually is, but living in the shadow of his six or seven prime specimen older brothers has shot his confidence a bit. Frederic is very tentative about everything and would much rather read a book than right wrongs and seek adventures. Duncan is very much in his own world and, let’s be honest, quite a bit of a dork.
The four would-be heroes begin this book by taking a break from adventures seeing as whatever happened in the first book didn’t go so well, and the League are now the butt of every court jester, troubadour, and balladeer in 13 kingdoms. That is, they are on a break until they discover that an object of great power (although they are not exactly sure what that object is at first) is in danger of falling into dastardly hands. So the disbanded League regroups, comes up with a plan, and tries to execute it while dealing with trolls, giants, an unwanted wedding, a stealthy and traitorous murderer, a ridiculous boy king who is their ultimate nemesis, and his tentative ally, a vicious war lord who is out to protect his own interests.
Being a fan of fractured fairy tales, I started this book in delightful anticipation. That wore off rather quickly as Gustav, Frederic, and especially Duncan failed to appeal to me. Then there was the whole let’s-gather-our-resources-together-so-we-can-execute-our-plan section of the book that just seemed to go on forever. I kept waiting for them to do something rather than just prepare to do so. Not to mention that their archrival, the boy Bandit-King Deeb Rauber, was so annoying that I wanted him to drown in his own moat. He, his collaborator Lord Rundark, and their collective lackeys were just irritating. The only one I found remotely interesting was Rauber’s fellow bandit Vero, whom I am not convinced is entirely a bad guy. There was something honorable about him and he reminded me so much of the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride that I was waiting for him to be something of a double agent.
Then, once the plan started rolling and they actually went about trying to recover the mysteriously powerful orange jade things got more interesting, and I found myself interested in what was going to happen next, really rather despite myself. Snow proved to be far less than a bubble-head than she appeared, Liam’s sister Lila jumped on the girl-power train with Ella, Rapunzel came in to do her bit, and Briar Rose proved to have the tiniest bit of a heart under her incredibly thick shrewish exterior.
The adventure ended, the quest was successful yet not totally resolved, paving the way for a third book. And, amazingly, I found myself interested in some of the unanswered questions: Would Frederic and Rapunzel end up together (as they so should)? What about Ella and Liam? Would Gustav ever be appreciated in his own right or always be compared (unfavorably) with his brothers? Would someone ever put the reader out of her misery and totally kill off Deeb Rauber? Would my faith in the ultimate decency of Vero be rewarded?
So while the strong fairy-tale element leaves me not sure if boys are indeed the target audience, I can say that this girl ended up overall enjoying this story that grew on her. Who knew?