The Princess and the Hound
by Mette Ivie Harrison
It was not so much Orson Scott Card's endorsement as the cover art on this Harper
Teen paperback that persuaded me to read it. But in the end, I was reminded of the
impression Card's books have left on me: the sense of a tale that started with great
promise, but never quite lived up to it.
It is the story of a prince named George. On his father's side, George is heir to
the throne of Kendal. From his ill-fated mother, however, he has inherited a
forbidden magic: the power to speak to animals in their own language. Anyone caught
with this secret can be publicly burned; but as his mother's death proves, if you
try not to use the power, it burns you up from within. For this and other reasons,
George holds himself aloof and lives only for his princely duty. And that duty, it
now seems, will include marriage to the princess of nearby Sarrey, marriage to
ensure peace between the two countries.
George is ready to marry Princess Beatrice, sight unseen, whether he likes her or
not. He has become quite good at keeping his feelings to himself. But the princess
is nothing like what he expects. Constantly accompanied by her great hound Marit,
with whom she shares a unique and mysterious communion, Beatrice seems to be even
better at hiding her true self than George is. Does this mean he can trust her with
his secret? Or is she so well hidden that she has lost herself?
The true answer to this question is the crux of the whole story, what makes it a
truly unusual and memorable fantasy. How the prince and princess find love together
is more than just a romantic story; it is a collision of myth, magic, danger and
promise, treachery and courage. It is a matter of seeing who is truly who, and
unleashing thrilling powers to transform and renew. But it is also, finally, and I
must add sadly, increasingly fuzzy and unsatisfying. Just when the author seems to
hold lightning in her hands, the narrative goes limp and the fantasy passes from
fascinating to preposterous. I lost the sense of the characters being real people,
right around the scene in which Marit is revealed in her true form. Maybe some of it
came back towards the end; but such a fumble at the most crucial moment of a story
can ruin the whole thing.
I can't say it was a total waste of time. I don't begrudge a moment that I spent
reading this book, and I still like the cover art. But I appeal to Mette Ivie
Harrison: reconsider your pacing and character-handling toward the end of the book.
I would stand in line to buy its Second and Revised Edition; and if it is what it
could be, I would cherish it. But as the book stands now, my copy will probably end
up in the Christmas stocking of someone I don't have time to shop for. What a
difference a few scenes could make!
Recommended Age: 12+
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