Round 1, Match 8: The Two Princesses of Bamarre vs. The Wrinkled Crown

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Judged by Debbie • Find her on Goodreads


First of all, I’d like to say how chuffed I am (dead chuffed) to get to be part of this battle. I got to know Beth on GoodReads by eavesdropping on last year’s battle and other conversations between her and my long-time reading friend Hallie and other mutual friends. So, when Beth approached me this year asking if I’d be interested in being one of the judges, I jumped at the chance. What fun!

Funnily enough, when Beth gave me the assignment to read The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine, and The Wrinkled Crown, by Anne Nesbet, I had just finished reading an ARC of Karen Cushman’s latest book, Grayling’s Song, which has a lot in common with these two choices. All three concern a young girl, one who needs to prove herself or to “find” herself, setting out on an adventure in the Wide World, despite her own misgivings, in order to save someone close to her: a sister, a friend and a mother, respectively. So I was almost judging between three books, but you’ll be glad to know that I think I would have rated the Cushman third of the three, as much as I admired its craft and poetic writing. So, now I have to choose between two superficially similar but in many ways very different books.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre is the first book I’ve read by Gail Carson Levine, though, for what it’s worth, I have seen the movie of Ella Enchanted. It introduces us to a fairly generic medieval-ish “fairy tale” setting, a castle-studded land of princesses, dragons, wizards and ogres. As if fending off magical beasties were not enough, the people of Bamarre are in constant danger from the Grey Death, a plague-like illness that is always fatal. The “Two Princesses” of the title are Meryl, the older one, who is learning to be a hero in order to rid the world of the plague that killed their mother, and Adelina – Addie – the narrator, who relies on her sister to protect her from all the things in the world that terrify her. Soon after the book begins, Meryl falls ill with the Grey Death, and it is up to Addie to save her, with the help of a handsome young apprentice wizard named Rhys. There is a mysterious prophecy about the way the Grey Death can be overcome, and Addie has to overcome her own fears and follow clues in the national epic of the hero Drualt, if she is to save her beloved sister.

This is a thoroughly delightful story that I would have loved when I was a child. There isn’t a formal genre of “cosy fantasy,” but if there were, this would be in it. It has all the trappings of a fairy story without any real darkness or ambiguity; this may be one of its strengths, depending on what you are looking for in a book, or one of its weaknesses perhaps in comparison with the other book in this match-up. Addie is a charming, resourceful girl whom we root for all the way along. The story is extremely suspenseful, and the final few chapters keep you gripped to the page – I stayed up far too late finishing it.

Although overall I found the world-building a bit generic, with a somewhat vague sense of geography, there are some flashes of genius. For example, I loved the description of the way wizards are born. Wizards are born when lightning strikes marble. The lightning and the marble combine into a flame, and within the flame is the sorcerer:

He would look about him for a moment. Then he would look inward and learn what he was. In a burst of joy he would rocket into the sky, in the storm, showering sparks.

This is wonderful, and I wish we had learned more about them, their community and their powers.

I loved one whole section where Addie is captured by an eloquent, lonely dragon – a whole different book could have been written about this dragon and her relationship with her victims. The way this particular plotline was resolved was a bit of a disappointment, and left me feeling let-down.

I really liked the way the “epic” of the hero Drualt is inter-woven into the story. It adds some depth and resonance to the fairy-tale culture, and Levine captures a very authentic Beowulf-like tone in the poetry.

I’m not sure about the effectiveness of the first-person narrative, particularly in terms of how we are meant to see Addie overcome her own fears. It felt to me that we knew Addie was scared of things because she told us so, and each time she has to face her fears that facing seemed a bit easy. There is a charming love story, but that, too, seemed a little too easily resolved and we seem to lose sight along the way that Addie is only twelve.

Linnet – Linny – the heroine of The Wrinkled Crown is also twelve, or just about to turn twelve at the opening of the book. Lourka, where Linny has grown up, is a small world within a bigger one, consisting of the village, the forest and the hills. If you wandered too far downhill you might never come back, although occasionally one or two people might wander in from the outside world; among those was Linny’s mother. There are drifts of magic – wrinkles – in the world, and some people have gifts of wrinkles. Linny’s is “humminess” inherited from her father, and the power of never getting lost that she gets from her mother. Everyone knows that girls must not touch a lourka – the musical instrument that gives a name to their world – before their twelfth birthday, or risk being carried off to Away. Because of her gift of “humminess,” Linny’s family and her best friend Sayra, whose gift is making things out of silk, have tried hard to prevent Linny from touching a lourka. Linny has secretly not only touched a lourka, she has built one for herself and taught herself how to play it. When the birthday arrives, however, it is not Linny but her beloved friend who is taken by the Voices, so it is up to Linny to find some way to bring her home. She heads off, accompanied by “that lummox” Elias, a boy who also loves Sayra, to the Broken City, where her aunt lives, and where she might be able to get some medicine that will cure Sayra. The main action of the novel takes place in the Broken City, a land split between those who respect and use the “wrinkles” (magic), and those who rely on technology and want to destroy the wrinkles entirely.

This is such a merry, rollicking, complex and wondrous book. It’s the first of Nesbet’s books I’ve read, but if her others are like this I want to read them. The writing is robust and colourful; Linny is an impulsive, curious, quick, clever and thoroughly delightful girl, and she remains thoroughly herself throughout the book, even as she learns that sometimes rushing into things isn’t the best way. The world of Lourka and the Broken City is inventive and reflects some political depths – things are ambiguous and not as clear-cut and simple black and white, right and wrong. The author that Nesbet reminds me of most is Frances Hardinge – especially those of her books involving Mosca and her goose. This is high praise.

If I have one complaint, it might be that there is so much to be contained in one book. There seemed to be plots and sub-plots and twists and turns, one colourful character appearing after another. I suspect and hope that there might be a sequel, one that will help to resolve some of the political loose-ends and tell us more about how the “wrinkles” work and whether the two sides of the Broken City can ever be reunited.

Both these books are well worth reading. I thoroughly enjoyed The Two Princesses of Bamarre, but The Wrinkled Crown took me somewhere I’d never been and kept me buoyed with colourful writing. For that reason, I choose The Wrinkled Crown to advance to the next round.


Congratulations to The Wrinkled Crown, which moves on to round 2!

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24 thoughts on “Round 1, Match 8: The Two Princesses of Bamarre vs. The Wrinkled Crown

  1. though, for what it’s worth, I have seen the movie of Ella Enchanted

    NOT WORTH ANYTHING AT ALL. (Sorry.) This is coming from someone who read Ella Enchanted when it first came out, in hardcover, and then marched into Barnes and Noble for the paperback as soon as it was released. The movie is terrible. READ THE BOOK.

    I like the idea of cozy fantasy, and I’m wondering if fantasy needs to be smaller, or less epic, to be cozy? People who go on lonely quests to save the universe don’t typically have cozy stories – this is Addie’s quest, yes, but she’s going to save her sister, and it’s a family story more than a quest to me.

    I have to say, my heartless younger self LOVED the ending and that she wasn’t wholly successful. I thought it was rare (even back then) and so exciting as a result.

    You know I feel the same way you do on The Wrinkled Crown 🙂

    1. I will read the book, I promise. I enjoyed Two Princesses enough to want to seek out other things by her. I liked the ending, too. And after the enormous suspense of “will she be in time, will she make it” it was very effective. I didn’t want to say too much about that because spoilers.
      I like the idea of cozy fantasy, too! Another example might be a little-known but very delightful story by Joan Aiken, The Kingdom and the Cave (which might be a candidate for a future battle…). Different from what I think of as “domestic fantasy” which is still cozy but takes place in our world … or maybe that could also be cozy fantasy. Hmmm.

    2. THE MOVIE IS NOT TERRIBLE. It has Hugh Dancy in it. How can that be terrible?

      (Also, there is absurd bursting into song.)

        1. (INCORRECT).

          (I WILL HAPPILY CONCEDE THAT IT IS PROBABLY NOT FAITHFUL)

          (AND THAT I HAVE A FONDNESS FOR THE ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS.)

      1. Hugh Dancy AND CARY ELWES AND ERIC IDLE IN THE VERY BEGINNING. AND ALSO THERE IS QUEEN.

        Two seconds into it I decided that if I just closed my eyes when the title appeared and plugged my ears anytime they mentioned the word “obedience” or “curse,” I could pretend it was an entirely different story and wasn’t ruining one of my favorite books ever. And using that methodology, I CONFESS, I LOVED IT.

        But as an adaptation it is utterly worthless and I weep for the movie Ella Enchanted should be. (I actually have the entire thing storyboarded in my head.) (And costumed.) (Color palette? Check.) (Ella reading one of her letters to Char as a voiceover a montage of her scrubbing Hattie’s feet? Check.)

        (IT WOULD BE BEAUTIFUL, I’M JUST SAYING.)

        1. I WAS SO YOUNG AND NAIVE WHEN I SAW THAT MOVIE, AND IT UTTERLY DESTROYED MY FAITH IN HOLLYWOOD ADAPTATIONS.

          (Exhibit A: Katie sent me a link, earlier today, that they’re re-adapting the Chronicles of Prydain into some sort of movie(s), and all I could think was NOOOOOO DOOOOON’T.)

          (That said, I loved The Martian a lot. Every rule has to have an exception.)

          I WOULD LOVE TO SEE YOUR VERSION.

  2. The author that Nesbet reminds me of most is Frances Hardinge – especially those of her books involving Mosca and her goose. This is high praise.

    Alright, you have my attention. Are we saying this Frances Hardinge without the recent extreme creepiness and/or bleakness?

        1. Whaaat. Go read it right this second! I realize you are probably sleeping now and working in the morning. These are not excuses.

          (Yeah, that seems to be what I’ve heard of the movie.)

              1. Who am I to argue with tradition? I think it’s probably your turn to shun me. You can feel free to do so now, or I am judging one of the Round 2 battles if you’d prefer to wait until then (and anticipate having strong feelings ‘re: Jellicoe Road v. The Goblin Wood).

  3. I mentally replied to this entry on my way to work and only now realized that I never ACTUALLY replied to it!

    Anyway, this is such an interesting matchup! I had been leaning towards The Wrinkled Crown in my own head, but now that you chose it, naturally I’m thinking, “Oh wait, maybe I would’ve picked Two Princesses!” I think The Wrinkled Crown has maybe lost some points with me in the few weeks since I finished for being too complicated. Maybe the “cozy fantasy” (which SHOULD be a thing!) feeling lasts longer with me.

    (I am another one who loves Ella Enchanted the book! I have not seen the movie, but clearly I should!)

    1. The movie is fun. From what I know of the book though (I haven’t read it), it is one of those cases of probably best to treat them separately. I think a number of things are dealt with very differently.

  4. I haven’t read anything by Levine but I’ve read Nesbet’s ‘A Cabinet of Earths’ and loved it – the story, the characters, the writing. Can’t wait to read this one.

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