I decided to give E. D. Baker another chance. She wrote the highly disappointing Frog Princess–but I was so intrigued by the premise of The Wide-Awake Princess, I decided to try it anyway.
The story is about Sleeping Beauty’s younger sister, Annie. She’s immune to magic (in fact, she nullifies it around her), so when the entire castle falls asleep, she stays awake. She goes in search of princes to kiss her sister, picking up a handsome guard for a traveling companion.
To give Baker due credit, she’s really good at ideas. I mean, the princess kisses the frog and turns into a frog–that’s brilliant. The chancy part is what she does with the ideas. Fortunately, this book was packed with clever ideas, and the follow-through was an improvement on The Frog Princess.
While out looking for princes, Annie encounters elements from half a dozen other fairy tales–Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and Rose Red, Rapunzel, the Princess and the Pea, even the Frog Prince. They’re all a little bit tweaked, mostly in clever ways, and the fast flow of them all keeps the book interesting.
My main reservation towards the book was a lack of depth. The major characters had some development but were not very complex, and they didn’t seem to feel anything very deeply. As an example–all the royals, including Annie’s family, are magically enhanced from christening gifts. Since Annie nullifies magic, they all become less beautiful, less graceful and so on while around her (again–brilliant idea). As a result, Annie is forbidden to touch her family, and they never hug or kiss her. In Susan Kay’s Phantom, the Phantom has the exact same problem, that his mother refuses to kiss him. For him, it’s a deeply scarring situation, causing him real pain as a child, and on into adulthood. Annie, on the other hand, seems to be a little wistful on the subject. (Really–her mother never touches her–that should be painful!)
To some extent it’s apples and oranges–Phantom is high drama, this is a children’s comedy. But characters in comedies can still feel things. And children’s books can have depth–the end of The House at Pooh Corner has real pathos, and Abel’s Island is about a character’s existential crisis.
Then there was the treatment of life-threatening situations. Characters choose to plunge into danger without much motivation. And while in dangerous situations, Annie is never afraid. She’s uncomfortable, irritated, occasionally worried, but not afraid. It got to the point where I was rooting for her to get scared some time, just to prove that she’s human. I love feisty heroines, but even Alanna (a lady knight dubbed the Lioness) gets scared sometimes. I don’t care how light your story is meant to be, your characters still have to be believable according to human nature.
But the ideas were really good. The plot was fine. Annie, despite not having much depth, is a fun character, and her love interest is a good guy.
In the end, it’s a fun story. Just don’t expect it to be more than that.