Larson weaves a patchwork mix of trite and truly excellent ideas into this chronicle of a young fugitive’s first year at princess school.
Having neither name nor past and first met racing through an enchanted forest clad only in spider webs, “Cadet Eleven” (Evie for short) finds herself enrolled in a school for combat princesses after rescuing hunky prince Remington from a witch’s cage. Under the tutelage of a tiny but fierce Fairy Drillsergeant and other faculty, she learns how to fight witches with “Courage, Compassion, Kindness, and Discipline,” along with ball-gown tailoring and other princessly skills. Meanwhile Remington and the other young men (except for one, who enrolls with the princesses because he was raised as the designated girl in a family of 22 boys) are in the school’s other wing training to be dragon-killing knights. Romance ensues, as do sharp conflicts when Evie, whose past is illuminated bit by bit in arbitrarily timed visions and revelations, turns out to have been lovingly raised, though not by humans. By the end, Evie has won her way past tests and rivalries, fought several witches (scary ones, too), and caught hints of both her human parentage and a promising destiny among such warrior greats as Cinderella and Snow White.
Flashes of inspiration light up a protagonist with plenty of spine, a plot too dependent on set pieces and a colorful but quickly sketched supporting cast. A sequel-worthy debut nonetheless. (Fantasy. 11-13)