An ugly princess with magical powers must save her island from invasion by the vicious Druzazzi.
In the tradition of The Princess Bride (with somewhat less whimsy) and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Smith’s debut is a fairy tale in a new world. Olive is princess of Rosemount and one of a race of women known as the Winnowwood, who have a magical connection to the natural world and the ability to shape-shift into animal forms. However, each time she uses her powers, a Winnowwood gets progressively uglier. If she cuts off the extra joint, or crux, on her left pinkie that holds her magic, she becomes beautiful—but loses her powers. Olive’s sister Rosaline happily sacrifices her crux for beauty and looks forward to marriage to the handsome but shady Prince Victore, leaving Olive as the last Winnowwood with a crux. Olive has vowed never to cut it off, despite her father’s hatred; even when she saved their island from a Druzazzi invasion, her father was more embarrassed that his fellow kings saw her ugliness than thankful that she and her animal friends saved them from certain death. On Olive’s 18th birthday, her father is ambushed and taken prisoner by the neighboring king of Alganoun; the ransom is for Rosaline to marry an Alganoun prince. Olive takes Rosaline’s place in hopes of rescuing her father, but on the road, she’s kidnapped by the dreaded highwayman Black Bart—himself no Adonis. Soon, it becomes clear that there are deeper conspiracies at work and that the Druzazzi are about to make another attempt on the island. Olive begins to wonder if Bart may be the man to lift the curse of the Winnowwood—by loving her despite her looks. Unfortunately, the text is in need of another round of editing—inexplicable switches in tense, clunky phrasing and a need for some better-placed punctuation—and certain scenes, such as Olive in cat form spying on Bart with a mouse sitting on her head to guide her, need more attention to detail. Yet the theme of the power of natural magic versus that of human beauty is treated seriously without getting didactic, and most of the characters, including Olive, are intriguingly flawed. In the end, most readers will look forward to the sequel promised in the epilogue.
The twists along this charming road make for an enchanting journey.