A fairy-tale princess must solve a mystery in the world characters live in after their stories end.
Princess Sophia, youngest of the 12 dancing princesses, is a centuries-old reporter in the land where characters go once they are created. These are not just generic fairy-tale characters; familiar faces Edward Cullen, Professor Dumbledore, Marian the Librarian, and others have scenes or cameos. Sophia’s selected by The Storyteller (the godlike first storyteller) and the First Character to stop Prince Charming, who’s influencing his own story, which shouldn’t be possible. Along with lady’s man and love interest Jack Giantkiller, her investigation takes her through an inventive, wacky world of mashed-up fictions, with painstakingly explained rules. As the story progresses, the tone shifts abruptly from parody to something darker in prison interviews that reveal the truths hidden by Charming’s sanitized tales: he’s a wife beater, attempted murderer, and child molester. The two tones (bubbly parody and lighthearted love story on one hand, and grimdark on the other) are never reconciled; Sophia’s description of the queen from “Snow White” as “frigid” after hearing that this victim of child molestation wasn’t responsive to the advances of her arranged-marriage husband is a chief example of how the humor falls flat. The story takes too long to develop any real stakes and consequences, but it finally picks up; here’s hoping that sequels even out.
An ambitious overreach. (afterword, bibliography, Q-and-A) (Fantasy. 14 & up)