Debut author Kelly offers a middle-grade saga of a princess, a prince, and his horse, all searching for their purposes in life.
In the kingdom of the Satisfied Land, toads in top hats tap-dance, houses are made of candy and cookies, and even insects stop to admire each colorful sunset. This could have been an unbearably saccharine setup, but the over-the-top sweetness is deliberate and shows the author’s often entertaining, absurdist approach. “Normal” is unheard of in the kingdom, as each inhabitant has a personality “fault” and a physical “flaw” as well as “one brilliant talent and one outstanding physical beauty.” (The author has sly fun in assigning “faults,” introducing a Minister of Education with low self-esteem and a Minister of Defense who can’t speak above a whisper.) The Grand Prince Usab of Empaffy arrives—the prophesied true love of the Satisfied Land’s bald, beautiful, and bored Princess Spatlina. Just as he shows up, though, the kingdom is invaded by forces from the Republic With Much Enthusiasm But Not So Well Thought Out. Their nefarious plan to steal the dancing toads is foiled, but the Republic’s captured leader, General Jit, falls madly in love with the princess, which isn’t mutual. Still, Prince Usab embarks, with his talking horse, Roger, on a quest for purpose. This involves help from a tadpole—before he becomes a frog and loses his “fervent unaffected observations and convictions”—and an encounter with truly creepy vampire teddy bears. Prince Usab later discovers that he can make a difference in the Republic; eventually, the princess, too, will find her purpose. Several real-world messages for readers pepper the book, such as “happiness is a journey and not a destination,” although some are more successful than others. However, incidents involving excrement, bodily fluids, and references to Roger’s “putrid horsey smell” grow tiresome. There are also several distracting errors, as when a character shakes himself “out the doldrums,” “ores” is used instead of “oars,” and both the prince and his horse are said to know roads like the “backs of their hands.”
A flawed but often entertaining mix of absurdity and fantasy.