Author: Cathryn Constable
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication Date: September 24th, 2013 (in USA)
Read: November 2013
Where It Came From: ARC from publisher at Book Expo America and eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Rating: 2 Volkonsky Diamonds
Though the one on the left is the cover for the US hardcover release, we much prefer the version on the right.
The Wolf Princess crossed our paths twice. The first time, Susan picked up a copy at the BEA because it was a children’s princess fantasy, and the second time, Alyssa saw it available on NetGalley and thought it looked like fun. What fun! we thought. We can read it, and then do a joint post together.
So far, so good. In fact, we did both read it, so all was well up to that point. After a wide-ranging and not entirely focused discussion of the book (listening to songs from the movie Anastasia in different languages may have been involved), Alyssa (perhaps cruelly) delegated the initial discussion synthesis and post writing to Susan.
It was here that, much like in colonial Nigeria, things started to fall apart. As in, literally half the sentences that Susan tried to write. See for yourself:
Susan Attempt 1Susan's first attempt started strong, but was abandoned not once, but both in the middle and at the end, for reasons unknown to the discoverers of this musty digital manuscript. Exhibit A, for your examination:
Remember the magic of Anastasia? The Disney-style princess movie made after the animators left Disney? Set in a Russia of abandoned and dusty palaces, it tells the story of poor orphan Anya, who discovers that she is the lost princess Anastasia, and heir to some remaining imperial wealth. The ultimate proof that she’s a member of the family destroyed by the Russian Revolution is that she has a vague memory of a special song. The main difference between The Wolf Princess and Anastasia is that there’s a cute romance in the movie that wouldn’t fit in a story about the younger orphan, Sophie. And there are wolves in the book. The other stuff is the same, as though orphans in
There are a lot of things to recommend the book to younger readers (I’d say ten would be the ideal age for this story), and even more particularly to children fascinated by the winter wonderland of imperial Russian palaces. But to be perfectly fair, there are not that many things to recommend it to the college-and-past audience (even though it makes me feel like a crotchety spoilsport to say this).
Flowing narrative (aside from the abrupt drop-off in the middle, of course) introduces this modern-day Russian fairytale, and not unkindly begins to address our opinion of it. As the lengthiest and most coherent of the attempts, we are left to wonder what more we would have learned had this attempt been successfully completed.
Susan Attempt 2The second attempt tried to move past the Anastasia associations, dispensed with the bull crap, and got right down to the business at hand. Was the review to be harsh? Favorable? Hard to say with so little extant. Only this fragment remains to us:
In reading The Wolf Princess it is best to forget plot details from Anastasia and just remember how beautiful the palace is during the ball scenes, because it’s a little difficult to keep
Those of us with even the mildest proclivity for completeness will find this open-ended thought frustrating as we are left to wonder, difficult to keep what?? Alas, that knowledge is not to be.
Susan Attempt 3No one knows what Susan was drinking, eating, or otherwise consuming the night she typed this, but it appears that the enormity of the task at hand plagued her with maudlin thoughts as she strove to forge a personal connection with both a season and country to which she doesn't feel particularly inclined. She also seems to have been trying to force a segue to one of her favorite topics, the movie 1776 and her beloved John Adams. What is going on here?? If your scholarly analysis of these 3.5 sentences proves fruitful, please share your findings with us.
Considering how miserable a lot of aspects of life were in almost every past era, it’s remarkable how easy it is to look at crumbling symbols of bygone times with grief. I’m guilty of doing this a lot. I wandered through English estates in a magical fog of wishing disproportionately wealthy landowners the resources to maintain their mansions before I visited the Liverpool Slavery Museum and learned that most of that wealth came from the Atlantic slave trade (and hence it’s not lamentable that the revenue source is gone). So I completely get why
There’s really nothing else to be said about this one.
Susan Attempt 4Despair seems to have overcome Susan during her fourth attempt, as she could only manage to sit down and narrate that action before presumably trundling off to some other, more pleasant, corner of the internet. Perhaps there is some sort of code hidden in these attempts? An anagram of a plea for help, or rescue, perhaps? Apparently the albatross lobbed at her by her callous co-blogger had simply grown too heavy to bear alone.
I sat down
But seriously folks, lest our pert and petty patter (thanks, Ann M. Martin, for that lovely turn of phrase!) lead you to believe our reaction to The Wolf Princess was entirely negative, we didn’t actually hate it. (As you may have guessed, a meeting of the Mutual Self-Admiration Society had convened right as we sat down to write this post, and Susan’s laughter as she was reading in real time while Alyssa toyed out her commentary egged A on to further heights and depths.) Here's the Goodreads blurb for the book (that's right, we're feeling lazy tonight) to bring us all up to speed on what's going on in it:
Alone in the world, Sophie dreams of being someone special, but could never have imagined this. On a school trip to Russia, Sophie and her two friends find themselves on the wrong train. They are rescued by the beautiful Princess Anna Volkonskaya, who takes them to her winter palace and mesmerizes them with stories of lost diamonds and a tragic past. But as night falls and wolves prowl, Sophie discovers more than dreams in the crumbling palace of secrets.
The most we can offer as criticism, independent of any coincidental similarity to Anastasia, is that we never got a sense of the secondary characters as being more than cliches. The main character, Sophie, is a sweet and lonely girl hoping to find a place where she feels at home, and whether she is generous or selfish, she has a constant motive. We cannot say as much about the other characters. Sophie’s boarding school roommates are Marianne (the Smart One) and Delphine (the Fashionable One), and you can probably guess how their interactions generally go. (Marianne: I wish I could be STUDYING now. Delphine: I love clothes!) The princess and her benefactor, the general, are equally limited in their character dimensions. Because they have wealth (or the appearance of wealth), they are disparaging of the third or twenty-third generation servants living in the palace (after all, servants are a separate species. And a gross one at that!). Almost a hundred years after the Russian Revolution, servants still guard houses where their families worked because servants are insanely loyal. (Genuinely insane. Snaps for you if you can figure out how they have enough money to live if the owners of the palace have been absent for fifty years.). Maybe when we were 11 we would've been able to skim over these troublesome things, but as twentysomethings we found it difficult to suspend our disbelief.
Despite our issues with characterization, Alyssa found one of the highlights of her reading experience to be the beautiful, evocative imagery of Russian winter and deteriorated imperial opulence. The pictures painted by the words are quite transporting and nearly make you feel the cold and the weight of history that Sophie and her friends in the story are experiencing. On another positive note, Susan noted that the magic in the book stems from the very tangible experience of finding oneself on a train to an unknown destination. It’s particularly charming to think that maybe one time, that train’s destination will be more wonderful than the intended one, and that a magic landscape is only a few hours away from the real world.
While we thought there was potential for this to be a really fun read based on the plot blurb, in the end we were both disappointed with it. Maybe we would've enjoyed it more when we were at the younger end of the target age group, but the things we found to be well done in the book did not counterbalance the elements that we found to be problematic. Not throw-it-at-the-wall bad, but not something we will be purchasing for the keeper shelf, either.
And on that note, dear readers, please excuse us while we go watch Anastasia.
*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source(s).