cover image Tsar's Promise

Tsar's Promise

Robert D. San Souci. Philomel Books, $14.95 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-399-21581-0

This latest offering from the author of The Talking Eggs and The Samurai's Daughter is based on a story from Andrew Lang's The Green Fairy Book. As the result of a hasty promise made by his father, Ivan, a tsar's son, must flee the clutches of an evil demon together with the beautiful Maria, an enchanted princess. San Souci combines several elements (too many, perhaps) of a classic fairy story: a subterranean palace (here, carved from a single ruby); impossible tasks that must be accomplished to win freedom; a wild flight with villains in pursuit. The tale begins promisingly, but loses its momentum in a tangled plot; the resolution, especially (in which the pair foil their pursuers with some quick-change legerdemain), seems abrupt and overly tidy. Mills's ( The Rag Coat ) evocative illustrations, in muted sepias and turquoises with embellished borders, extend the magical motifs, but occasionally exhibit a commercial look, particularly in the protagonists' faces. (One puzzlement is the depiction of a fly on Maria's right cheek--an insect that the text specifically places on her left cheek.) Both writer and artist conjure up a number of striking images here, but the end result falls short of the mark. Ages 4-up. (Nov.)