Jim C. Hines’ The Stepsister Scheme and The Mermaid’s Madness sound awful. They’re set in a fairy-tale kingdom, with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White all teaming up to kick ass and take names, Charlie’s Angels-style! Like in Shrek or something!

But that description does them a disservice, because Hines handles them a lot better than that. His fairy tale kingdom has solid world-building, his characters are individual, complex, and psychologically real. The attitude toward the female protagonists is a lot subtler and more feministy than the sort of Lara Croftian “fighting chicks, fuck yeah!” thing you’d picture, and in general, Hines does an excellent job with these books. There’s very little in them that I could really criticize.

Except for one thing: I found them a bit dull. I don’t know why. Objectively speaking, I shouldn’t’ve. They’re light, fast-paced, well-crafted adventure books. And yet, I found myself plodding through both of them and forcing myself to finish. The first book, I figured I’d just read it at the wrong time. But when the same thing happened with the second book, I had to admit that there was something in these books that was failing to grab me.

So, I dunno. Maybe it’ll grab you and you’ll really like them, or maybe they’re somehow just missing that spark of compelling readability. I can’t really recommend them with any particular strength, but there’s nothing in them to disrecommend them, either.


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