Friday, September 23, 2011

The Snow Queen's Shadow

The Snow Queen’s Shadow is the fourth and final (for now) book in Jim C. Hines Princess series.

The book opens with two thirds of Lorindar’s crack Princess task force; Talia (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow (White), facing off against rogue witch hunters Hansel and Gretel. It’s a real action packed opener, both Talia and Snow are in great form, bouncing one liners off one another as they face down danger from the brother and sister team. In the first of the Princess books (The Stepsister Scheme) I felt that Hines’ action and fight scenes were a little confusing and clunky, that’s no longer the case. This scene has the feel of a slickly shot action film. It actually reminded me of one of the Bond franchise’s elaborate pre credit sequences.

Talia and Snow barely have time to put Hansel and Gretel in custody, before they’re racing off to be at the side of their dying mentor and benefactor; Queen Beatrice of Lorindar. In an effort to prolong Bea’s life, Snow attempts to capture the Queen’s soul. This goes badly wrong, and the magically adept princess falls under the control of the demon that controls her magic mirrors.

It’s not instantly apparent exactly what has happened until Princess Danielle’s (Cinderella) husband and her son’s nurse are affected by cuts from shards of the mirror. Before Talia and Danielle can stop her, Snow has taken off for her home of Allesandria to make them pay for exiling her after she killed her psychotic mother; Rose Curtana. To make a bad situation worse she’s kidnapped Danielle’s son; Jakob. Possibly due to the circumstances of his birth (Danielle’s pregnancy was accelerated by the Duchess of Fairytown’s darklings in The Stepsister Scheme) and his bloodlines through his mother (it’s never been stated that she has magical blood, but no normal person can call animals the way Danielle can and her mother did manage to transplant her spirit into a tree and the glass sword that Danielle carries), Jakob is unaffected by the mirror shards, and may even be a conduit for the demonic power that resides within them. Getting him back will not only reunite mother and son, it may also save the world.

Because they work better as a trio, and without Snow they’re virtually magicless, the author introduces the character of Gerta. Gerta is Snow’s ‘sister’. The story is in part based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, but Gerta seems to come from Grimm’s Snow White and Rose Red legend. As well as giving Talia and Danielle magic, Gerta also has access to Snow’s memories and provides readers, and Talia, with a sort of surrogate Snow.

A couple of old favourites: dryad ship’s captain Hephyra and her three legged cat Stub, return and play a fairly vital role in helping Talia, Danielle and Gerta accomplish their goal. The new character of the darkling was also introduced, and I think it’s a testament to Jim Hines’ skill as a writer that he made me have feelings for a character that never spoke, and was essentially an animated independent thinking shadow.

In the other books you never really felt like Danielle, Talia and Snow could miss. The reader was secure in the knowledge that the story would end happily, if not ever after. This was not the case with The Snow Queen’s Shadow, one of the heroines was not going to have a happy ending, which one would it be? I’m not going to spoil the end for people, but it was tragic and heartbreaking, it ended on a bit of an upbeat note, but it was definitely bittersweet.

Scott Fischer knocked it out of the park again with his cover art. There’s a feeling of foreboding about it, with the poses of the principals, especially Talia, and Snow’s face with an imperious look, dominating the whole thing.

Sometimes series like this one, limp rather than sprint to the finish line. Not The Snow Queen’s Shadow. Jim C. Hines saved the best for last. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by Red Hood’s Revenge. This was odd, I’d thought with it’s Arabian Nights setting and an exploration of my favourite of the three Princesses (Talia) that I would love that instalment, but for some reason it just fell a little flat for me. The Wild Hunt also seemed strangely out of place in it. The Snow Queen’s Shadow was Hines’ A game. You sometimes get a book in a series where everything just works. That’s what happened with The Snow Queen’s Shadow. It had the right amounts of action, comedy and tragedy. It’s characters never struck a bum note and everything just fell into place wonderfully. You do need to read the other three to get the full impact, but they’re all high quality (even Red Hood’s Revenge) and finish with a real bang. Although The Snow Queen’s Shadow is the final in the series, Hines does not rule out returning to the concept in the future in his author’s note at the back of the book, and he’s given himself the opportunity to do so with an open ending.

If you want to read more from Jim C. Hines he is currently at work on a new concept called Libriomancer, which is due out sometime in 2012. It’s on my wish list for next year.

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