The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
Come back with me, if you will, to my childhood. (It’s a quick trip, I promise; y’all have your shots, right? I might be contagious.) My family is visiting my brother at the Air Force Academy, which puts me anywhere from nine to thirteen. As I wandered across a bright and green field, filled with cadets’ families, I came across this book peeking out of someone’s tote bag. I didn’t touch it, in a rare expression of self-control, but I was fascinated by the cover and the title. It’s always stuck with me, and might be one of the first books I ever wanted to read under my own steam.
And then it took me eleven years to get to it. Whoops!
The Two Princesses of Bamarre follows two royal sisters—the brave, courageous Princess Meryl, and the timid, domestic Princess Addie. Despite their differences, the two sisters love each other very much. While Meryl yearns to go on adventures, Addie has made her promise to wait until she’s safely married. But when Meryl falls prey to the Grey Death, a plague sweeping Bamarre, it is timid Addie who must set forth to find the legendary cure to save her sister.
I’m usually pretty busy, but I try to carve out time in my day to read. After all, it’s a necessity for me. I usually start the day reading at breakfast (about fifteen to twenty minutes) and then keeping the book on me for any unexpected delays in the day. I only read The Two Princesses of Bamarre during breakfast and polished it off doing my neck exercises. Otherwise, I just could not summon the energy to devote any proper time to it. Guys? This was boring. I remember liking Gail Carson Levine as a kid, particularly Ella Enchanted (That was essentially required reading for little girls who liked fantasy!), but I just didn’t care about this.
I picked up The Two Princesses of Bamarre because of Addie; I wanted to see a character who wasn’t brave and courageous by traditional means rise to the challenge in her own special way. But Addie’s journey is less about accepting her limits and embracing her strengths and more about becoming brave and courageous, just like Meryl, even if her motivation is different. That’s all well and good, of course, but it does say that the timid Addie who goes on this quest isn’t just as good as her sister. Because I was reading it specifically for that, I was really perturbed by all this. I’ll be honest—I was expecting Addie’s domestic abilities to prove much more useful, rather than being ignored in favor of good old-fashioned violence. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Beyond Addie, the characters were a little flat. Even Addie didn’t come off timid and shy, as we’re told, but the girl I saw was quiet and insecure more than anything else. Meryl shines quite bright when we see her, but my favorite character was actually Vollys, a dragon that’s the closest thing the novel has to an antagonist. She was the most interesting. And I shan’t talk about the romance. It was so quick that I was almost suspicious of the actual motivations behind the match…
The narrative is a very episodic quest story, spiced up by the fact that Meryl is suffering plague. I was really hoping there was going to be more done with the plague, but it’s really just a plot device more than anything else—the ending smacks of too much deus ex machina for me. Or fae ex machina. Let us dive into spoilers! Look, I’m a huge The Lord of the Rings fan. There are reasons beyond the necessities of the plot structure that they couldn’t just ask an Eagle to fly into Mordor with the Ring—Eagles are proud jerks. Here, there’s no reason, and we’re still supposed to like them; heck, we’re supposed to very fond of at least two fairies. While I did ultimately enjoy the fairies and what they were up to, I still didn’t care for the worldbuilding. Its main difference from the standard fantasy setting are the supernatural wizards, which not much is done with beyond playing with clouds. Not bad, not great.
I suppose a lot of this is colored by the fact I’m listening to The Subtle Knife at the moment, so I’ve got a very clear idea of what the best writing for children can be. And The Two Princesses of Bamarre isn’t it.
Bottom line: Despite waiting eleven years to read it, I just couldn’t care about The Two Princesses of Bamarre. Eh.
I rented this book from the public library.