Princess of the Midnight Ball and Princess of Glass, this was the trilogy I decided to read for my "Begin and finish a series" goal. I was immensely proud of myself for reading all three books in two months.
But then . . .
. . . my mom and my two sisters saw what I was reading, and they all decided it looked like something they would enjoy, too. My sisters stole the books from me and read all three in a week's time. One week! They didn't even bat an eye about this. They acted like there was nothing unusual at all about reading an entire trilogy in one breath without reading something else in between.
Hmmm. It seems like maybe I'm the unusual one, and I should keep my pride about such ridiculous things to myself. (Even as it was, I read three books in between the second and third books. I couldn't help myself.)
Princess Petunia, the youngest of the twelve dancing princesses, is on her way to visit the Grand Duchess Volenskaya when her coach is attacked by the Wolves of the Westfalian Woods. Oliver, the head of the Wolves, has no intention of hurting anyone, but then, almost without realizing it, he ends up kidnapping Petunia. Even after he has delivered her safely to the Grand Duchess's estate, he finds that his life has become mixed up with hers, and he can't turn his back on her when he can tell that things are not as they seem and feels that something just isn't right.
This book was fun because it brought back most of the characters from the first book: all of the princesses, Galin and Heinrich, the Bishop, Walter Vogel, and even the old crone. And yes, the King and princes Under Stone as well.
This cast of characters gave the trilogy some symmetry and also a sense of finality. However, in retrospect, it made Princess of Glass seem a little out of place. It just didn't have a strong connection to the other two books. Now that I've read all three books, I think the middle book weakens the trilogy. I don't think it would if the third book weren't so strongly connected to the first book. But because there is that connection, the second books seems more like a detour than a part of the journey.
As long as I'm talking about the connection between the first and third books, I might as well mention the ending (you might want to skip this paragraph if you haven't read this book). I was very dissatisfied with the ending. It was much too similar to the ending of Princess of the Midnight Ball. In many ways, I felt like I was reading that book again (which, if I was following my usual habit of putting three years between books, probably wouldn't have been a problem, but spaced just a few weeks apart, this copying was really annoying). Honestly, as I was reading the scene with all the princesses exiting the ball in exactly the same manner as the first book, I kept thinking, The first time was unbelievable. But this? This is not only unbelievable but very uncreative.
And then (still talking about the ending to any readers who are skipping this part), the actual defeating of the King Under Stone was nothing special. It was all magic and spells and good vs. evil and blinding flashes of light, but in the end, it felt very much like Princess of Glass where all of a sudden everything was finished and good had triumphed, but I wasn't quite sure how we got there. Most disappointing to me was the anti-climatic moment with fire. Throughout the story, you get the sense that everyone in the Kingdom Under Stone is deathly afraid of fire. Petunia smuggled a book of matches in with her and tries several times to get something to burn. In the end, she sets the whole silver woods on fire, but it felt more like an afterthought from the author, like Oh yeah, I have to work in fire somehow, than an actual necessity of the climax. I just felt like there was a lot of potential there to make the ending more original and creative, but in the end, the new little bits and pieces were shoved in under the pretense of creativity.
Sorry, I know that all sounded a bit harsh, but poor endings rile me up, especially when the rest of the book is so good.
And it was good.
I loved Petunia and Oliver. Where I loved Galen but couldn't stand Rose in Princess of the Midnight Ball and loved Poppy but couldn't stand Christian in Princess of Glass, it was so refreshing to have this dynamic couple. They were both brave, self-sacrificing, and smart. My only wish is that there would have been a little more interaction between them and maybe a little more romance at the end.
I also loved the way the tale of Little Red Riding Hood was used throughout: everything from Petunia's gorgeous red cape (seriously, I want one) to the little cottage in the woods to Oliver being a Wolf. The ending might have lacked some creativity, but the retelling of this fairy tale did not.
One of the details I really liked was finding out more about the princes Under Stone. In the first book, we know that they were born to mortal women and then taken down to the Kingdom Under Stone. It was so intriguing to have the Grand Duchess and her grandson Grigori take such an interest in Under Stone and make the threat of connecting the two worlds all that more tangible and real.
While on the topic of the princes, I just have to mention one paragraph that seemed so out of place: "...to Petunia familiarity had bred a strange sort of comfort. The clothes were slick and strange, the food tasted like it had been sprinkled with ashes, but she had known Kestilan far longer than she'd known Oliver. Longer than she'd known Galen, even, and he was as dear to her as if he had been born her brother." As dear to her?! Where did this even come from? How do you use the word dear in reference to Kestilan?! There was absolutely no foundation for such a statement, and I found it not only extremely unfounded but also intensely repulsive.
With a mixed review like this one, it's probably a little bit difficult for you to tell if I would recommend this series or not, so I'll make it easy for you: I would definitely recommend it. No question. Yes, the endings left something to be desired, but the reading experience itself was very enjoyable.
Now that I've read all three books, I can definitely see the value in reading the books in a series back to back (or almost back to back). I was able to make connections and remember details that I wouldn't have otherwise. However, at the same time, I think I might have enjoyed the trilogy a little bit more if my memory had lapsed a little bit between books. I'm glad that I forced myself to read in a new way, but I'm not sure I'm convinced that it's better than my old way. I think I'll just stick with reading whatever I feel like, and if that happens to be two similar books one right after the other, so be it. But if not, I refuse to feel guilty.