The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Gail Carson Levine
Twelve-year-old Addie admires her older sister Meryl, who aspires to rid the
of gryphons, specters, and ogres. Addie, on the other hand, is fearful even of spiders and depends on Meryl for courage and protection. Waving her sword Bloodbiter, the older girl declaims in the garden from the heroic epic of Drualt to a thrilled audience of Addie, their governess, and the young sorcerer Rhys. kingdomof Bamarre
But when Meryl falls ill with the dreaded Gray Death, Addie must gather her courage and set off alone on a quest to find the cure and save her beloved sister. Addie takes the seven-league boots and magic spyglass left to her by her mother and the enchanted tablecloth and cloak given to her by Rhys—along with a shy declaration of his love. She prevails in encounters with tricky specters (spiders too) and outwits a wickedly personable dragon in adventures touched with romance and a bittersweet ending.
Gail Carson Levine is loved and adored for Ella Enchanted, and many of her other books, but one book that I see overlooked all the time is this one right here, The Two Princesses of Bamarre. As I mentioned in my review of Snow White and Rose Red I have a thing for sisters who are opposites in look and temperament and that is of course included in this tale.
Other than the fact that the two characters may have been inspired from that tale, Princesses' storyline is very original and not fairytale inspired like most of Levine's books. Its inspiration seems to be epic poetry. In the story Levine creates a kingdom that is obsessed with a hero that lived long ago and an epic poem was written to record all of his victories and then his losses. Lines from the poem are quoted everywhere throughout the book, and Addie's adventures are very reminiscent of the adventures of heroes in epic poetry.
I love the main character Princess Addie, for the fact that she is scared of everything, but when her sister contracts the Gray Death she finds the courage to overcome her fears through love for her sister, and if I had read this when I was younger I would find the theme of this very reassuring.
The story is short and light, but enjoyable. The version I own happens to be signed (the things you find at a used book store!), but either way this would be a book I would keep forever, reading it to my children.
The ending is one of my favourite parts of the book. The climax has you on the edge of your seat. Levine's ability to write is obvious as the pace grips you by the neck and you start turning pages faster and faster, truly worried for everyone. And then for all that work Addie fails to save her sister, but that's okay. Her sister turns into a fairy and it is perfect because Addie does not need Meryl anymore and Meryl needs to have many adventures. But it also takes away from it being a sweet saccharine happy yay yay ending that middle grade books tend to be. It adds a sense of finality and realism to the tale.
If you like Gail Carson Levine, don't overlook this short book. I recommend it for anyone wanting to wind down and just enjoy a good fairytale. For someone looking for a book to read their kids out loud, because I have no doubt that this book would be excellent read chapter-by-chapter aloud. Also if you are a fan of Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles I recommend this book. It does not have the snark of those books, but the adventures and prose have a very similar feeling in my opinion.