The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine
Release Date: March 20, 2001
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
All their lives, sisters Meryl and Addie have played at saving their people from the specters, ogres, dragons, gryphons, and the mysterious Gray Death that plague their cowardly father's kingdom. Brave Meryl always played the hero, while shy and cowardly Addie always took the part of the damsel in distress. Both sisters were comfortable in their roles and never questioned their futures, until Meryl falls ill with the deadly Gray Death. Always following a specific progression, and always ending in death, Addie knows exactly how many days her sister has left before she succumbs to the illness. Empowered by a prophecy that claimed the Gray Death would be vanquished when "Cowards find courage," Addie battles her fears and, racing against time, she sets out to find a cure to save her sister.
Supplied with a cloak that helps the wearer blend into the shadows (but it doesn't work on dragons and specters), a table cloth that provides an endless supply of food, seven league boots, a spyglass that allows the viewer to see over long distances and through walls, and an elfin herb that provides strength and dampens pain, Addie finds she must rely upon her own ingenuity if she is to find a cure and make it back to the castle alive. A handsome wizard provides sporadic moral support and an invisible stranger lends an occasional helping hand, but this is not a story where the hero triumphs with the help of a gaggle of friends. Instead, Addie is pretty much on her own and she must learn to find strength, courage, and ability within herself instead of always relying on others.
I've heard nothing but fantastic things about Gail Carson Levine, but for some reason I had it in my head that she wrote "simple" stories. Maybe they were good, but I just wasn’t expecting all that much from them. My only exposure had been watching the movie Ella Enchanted (cute, but nothing amazing) and one of her fairy short stories (again, cute, but forgettable). Granted, not a fair account, but that’s where I was. I had picked up this copy at a garage sale and finally decided to read it (fully expecting to give it away when I was finished). Let me just say, I was so wrong about Gail Carson Levine!
Addie was such a good character. She was meek and the exact type of person the phrase “Scared of her own shadow” would apply to. She always lived in the shadow of her bold sister, and she was perfectly happy to stay there. I, like Addie, was always content to stay in the background while my friends took center stage. Because of this, I felt an instant connection with Addie.
While much of the plot was predictable and neatly tied together, the story didn't feel stale or boring at all. It is obvious from the outset that Addie will find courage, but her progression from timid coward to capable woman is paced well and enjoyable to read. I appreciated that Levine had Addie find courage in her own way. She never became a daring swordswoman charging into battle like her sister, but she instead found confidence in her own strengths and abilities. This made for a nice “Stay true to yourself” message without being overly preachy.
The quality of world building in this story surprised me, in a good way. The specters added a level of fear and interest that was different from the norm. They could appear as anyone, and so they often tried to trick the characters by pretending to be benign people. This concept was creepy, and the puzzle that presented in having to figure out who was real and who was a specter made for some fun scenes.
Often dragons are written pretty similar to human characters with very human-like personalities. This dragon wasn't very human at all. Though she possessed some human-like traits, overall her way of thinking was definitely different. She wasn't a villain, but she wasn't good either. She was a complex character older tweens and teens will probably appreciate.
The objects Addie has with her on her journey allowed for even more inventive scenes. Reading about and trying to guess how she should best use these resources was fun. The epic poem about the hero Drualt woven throughout the story also added a layer of depth to the world and was a nice way for the author to foreshadow events.
The ending was not my ideal, but it worked. I wasn't expecting to like this story as much as I did, but it was a fun, nice read and I was pleasantly surprised. This should be a hit among tween girls, and would make for a great recommendation to girls who are a little shy or insecure. While not a tween, I still enjoyed this story very much.
Star Rating Key
Looking for something similar? You might like:
The Wide-Awake Princess, by E. D. Baker