Although she uses the standard set of ingredients (spunky princess, stable boy, two-dimensional villain, dragon, small helpful magical creatures, etc.), Barnhill’s latest never quite lives up to its potential.
Violet is not an attractive princess in the least, but that’s A-OK with her parents, her people and her best friend, Demetrius the stable boy. Violet’s fine with it too, until she and Demetrius stumble across a hidden room in her castle containing a terrifying painting and a malignant book. When Violet mistakenly releases an evil god of hidden legend in an attempt to become beautiful, she must sacrifice everything in order to rectify her mistake. Alas, it takes at least 90 pages to begin to feel any kind of proper sympathy for Violet since a key spell causes her to become unpleasant and obsessive early on. Though a prominent theme is of the power of storytelling, it is unclear what Barnhill is trying to say about it. On the face of it, it appears that she’s saying that some stories, even dangerous ones, need to be told. Yet as the tale continues and characters rail against storytelling, the opposite seems to be true, and the lesson—surely unintended—is that all stories are lies and falsehoods.
Though infinitely readable from the first page onward, this is one tale that never quite finds its footing. Art not seen. (Fiction. 9-12)