cover image The Two Princesses of Bamarre

The Two Princesses of Bamarre

Gail Carson Levine. HarperCollins Publishers, $17.99 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-06-029315-4

Levine (Ella Enchanted) enters a world of high fantasy with this latest princess tale, peopled with sorcerers, elves and fairies, but plot twists win out over character development. When teenage narrator Addie was two years old, and her sister, Meryl, just three, the siblings lost their mother to the Gray Death, a mysterious illness that continues to plague the kingdom of Bamarre, randomly selecting its victims. Meanwhile, under their monarch father's weak rule, ""ogres, gryphons, specters and dragons... were slaughtering hundreds of Bamarrians every year."" When the Gray Death strikes Meryl, Addie becomes determined to find the cure. Rhys, a sorcerer who fancies Addie, outfits her with a cloak (""It's not a cloak of invisibility,"" he tells her, ""but if you're in shadow... you won't be noticed"") and a tablecloth that produces food on demand; Bella, the girls' tutor, bequeaths to her gifts from their mother, seven-league boots (""the boots go seven leagues when you take a step"") and a spyglass that can view a distance of seven leagues and also penetrate stone and wood. Despite Addie's myriad adventures (an encounter with a specter, an ogre and a dragon) and the courage she gains throughout, her character remains an enigma. Other subplots, such as Rhys and Addie's courtship, are not fully developed. Even after the heroine completes her mission (Levine plants clues to its outcome with a Beowulf-like poem interspersed throughout the novel), readers may feel let down. Ages 10-up. (May)