This week, I’ll be talking about another story by Gail Carson Levine, all about the bond between two princesses. It’s … well, I’ll let you see for yourself.
This book isn’t for the faint of heart.
It’s not a typical fairytale for several reasons. First, it takes place in the kingdom of Bamarre, a wild country that’s constantly beset by monsters. Second, it has the undercurrent of an epic throughout. The author quotes an epic poem called Drualt throughout the book, which helps and supports the characters at key moments. Bamarre has a long history, and it’s important to understanding their current situation. Third, the ending isn’t unilaterally happy — even the main character calls it bittersweet.
The tale begins with a girl called Princess Addie. Her sister, Princess Meryl, is about as opposite as opposite can be. She dreams of being a warrior, and doesn’t fear anything, while Addie is shy and afraid of pretty much everything. Meryl longs to fight monsters, but made a promise to wait until Addie married.
Everything changes when Meryl contracts the Grey Death. It’s a sickness that always begins with weakness, followed by seven days of sleep and three days of fever. It’s always fatal. But there’s hope: a prophecy states that it will be cured “when cowards find courage and rain falls over all Bamarre”. Addie is reluctant to leave — she wants to stay by her sister’s side, and she hopes that her father will find the cure. But eventually, she begins her journey, with the help of some gifts from Rhys, the palace sorcerer, and their caretakers.
With the help of her seven-league boots, Addie goes to visit the specters (tricksters who can tell her the cure). But she’s tricked, and is eventually rescued (though she doesn’t believe it’s Rhys at first). Her alternate plan is to visit the dragons — Meryl has entered the second stage, and is quickly running out of time. She plans to do it on her own terms, but winds up captured after a bunch of attacking gryphons feed themselves to death.
Her captor, Vollys, is an interesting character. In contrast with the dragons from, say, the Dragon Slippers trilogy, she’s entirely evil. Addie’s not her first guest. But she always grows tired of them, and eventually eats them. Addie is trapped — without her seven-league boots, she can’t leave, and Meryl is closer to death by the day. Eventually, Vollys tells her the cure (she doesn’t think Addie will escape): the water from a valley located in the Eskern Mountains, which comes from the peak of Mount Ziriat, the home of the fairies. Naturally, Addie does escape by the skin of her teeth. But it’s Meryl’s final day — she only has until dawn.
With Rhys’ help, Addie and Meryl journey to the village near the waterfall’s valley, where they enlist the help of some of the villagers. She and Rhys confess their love, and they almost kiss. But they encounter danger when they’re almost to the falls — they’re attacked by ogres, gryphons, and then Vollys herself. Meryl almost makes it to the waterfall, but stops when she sees Addie’s in danger. Rain begins to fall, and Addie blacks out.
She wakes in the fairy palace. In due course, she finds out what happened. The Grey Death is no more, but Meryl didn’t reach the waterfall in time, and the fairies gave her a choice: death, or becoming one of them. She chose the latter. As it turns out, Bamarre’s hero Drualt did the same, and he and Meryl have fallen in love.
Addie is married to Rhys in the fairy palace. But Meryl has to leave them to their journey back to the palace. She’s on the brink of her own new adventure. There are celestial battles far above Bamarre that only fairies can fight, and it’s her job to be part of them. She’ll be able to be a warrior like she’s always dreamed, but on a far grander stage than she could ever imagine. She’ll also play fairy godmother to Addie’s children — like the one in Ella Enchanted, only more hands-on.
And yet, the ending is still bittersweet. While Addie found courage and Meryl will live her dream, they can never be together again. Their inseparable bond has to change. It’s not the same as death, but it hurts just as much.
Now, while this book might not be a typical fairytale, it still qualifies. Between the magical creatures, seven-league boots, and the inseparable friendship between sisters, there’s almost nothing more like a fairytale. Still, it’s perhaps more … grown-up than other books. As mentioned earlier, the ending is bittersweet, and that’s more true to life. Oftentimes, a happy ending involves giving something up. While that’s not idealistic, it works better for a more grown-up audience.
Thanks so much for reading! If you’d like to connect, you can contact me by email or follow me using the buttons on my homepage. On my social media, I let my followers know whenever I have a new blog post and give occasional updates about my life.
What do you think about The Two Princesses of Bamarre? Let me know in the comments!
And if you have any suggestions about topics, let me know there as well. I’d love to hear them!
Your Fairytale Enthusiast