Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible (book) by Ursula Vernon

Harriet the Invincible is a middle grade fairy tale retelling. I checked it out from the library.

I opted not to include read-alikes for this.


In this fun retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” Princess Harriet Hamsterbone is cursed by a wicked fairy named Ratshade. According to Ratshade, when she's 12 years old, she'll prick her finger upon a hamster wheel and fall into a sleep like death. Only a prince's kiss will be able to wake her.

Harriet finds out about all of this when she's 10 and, to her parent's surprise, thinks it's wonderful news. Sure, her 12th birthday will be a problem, but she's 10 and the curse needs her to stay alive until then. Since that makes her basically invincible, why not do all the adventuring she always wanted to do?

“Sleeping Beauty” is pretty low on my list of favorite fairy tales, and I don't think I've ever sought out a “Sleeping Beauty” retelling the way I do, say, “Beauty and the Beast” retellings. I wasn't sure even Ursula Vernon (who I'm more familiar with as “T. Kingfisher”) could make this fairy tale good, but she did.

The roughest part of this, for me, was the beginning. Yes, this was a light and humorous story, but even with that in mind, Harriet's parents seemed to take Ratshade and her curse too lightly. Instead of being horrified by the curse, they stood there and critiqued Ratshade's cursing technique.

Things improved a lot when Harriet learned about the curse, and I thought for a bit that the entire book was going to be about the years before Harriet turned 12. I'd have been okay with that, since it was fun watching Harriet gleefully throw herself into danger knowing that nothing could ever kill her, but then it wouldn't really have counted as a “Sleeping Beauty” retelling.

The curse became an issue almost halfway through the book. Harriet dealt with it (I won't say how), but unfortunately things didn't go perfectly and she still had to find herself a prince who'd be willing to do some kissing. Amazingly, I even liked this part of the book. The prince Harriet found was sweet (but kind of useless) and, like Harriet, completely uninterested in getting married. He helped Harriet because she'd helped him with his curse and because he'd always wanted to go adventuring.

There were so many things I liked: Harriet's love of fractions; Mumfrey the riding quail; the illustrations (the one of Mumfrey scaling the glass mountain was great); Heady the hydra. I was glad to see that the sense of humor I loved in the stuff Vernon wrote as T. Kingfisher was intact in her stuff for kids. The main difference was the lack of darker notes in the story.

Additional Comments:

There are a lot of graphic novel-style illustrations - they don't just illustrate what's going on, some have conversation bubbles that are vital to understanding what's going on in the story. Also, the official cover image doesn't show it, but this book has a bunch of glitter on it. It sparkles. Even so, it could use more glitter. The back of the book should sparkle too. (I'm kidding. Maybe.)

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