I'd hoped to have something better to offer you on Bessie Coleman day. I had been hoping I could review a refreshing novel with a strong female character, but unfortunately, I cannot. Yes, it was going to be this novel, but no, this novel which so promisingly started out, started doubt and then went so far downhill so fast that I almost got whiplash from it.
I'm not a fan of series and this novel is part of a somewhat disconnected trilogy, in that the stories are about different people in the same world, but there's a lot of crossover. The other two are Princesses Don't Get Fat and Princesses Don't Fight in Skirts, neither of which I've read. I'm unable to rate this one positively because of some serious issues I have with it, and while I confess I was initially interested in reading the '...Fat' novel purely out of curiosity since it's not a topic you usually find in books such as these, I changed my mind after learning more about it, and being increasingly disappointed in this one to the point where I DNF'd it at around 75%.
That said, the reason I chose to read this one is that it sounded like it might take a different path from your usual princess story, but in the end it didn't, so why would the '...Fat' novel be any different? I don't know, and I certainly have no faith that it would be. The engineering and steam-punk elements were quite obviously nothing more than sugary frosting adorning a doomed attempt to disguise on the usual stodgy "beautiful girlie princess meets strong, handsome, manly man and falls in love" cake. Those tales are not for me and are the very reason why I wrote Femarine. I had hoped that this one would be in the same vein as Femarine and was very disappointed when I discovered it would not be so.
This novel appears to take place late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, but there are anachronistic problems. Note that this is an alternate reality novel, which has huge similarities to our own reality, but which is also set in a fantasy world. No dates are given, so it's hard to place it on any kind of intelligent timeline as compared with our own. Roller skates were invented (to our knowledge) in the mid-eighteenth century, but were not widely known until early nineteenth, so would skates have been part of the vernacular? Probably not. The wheelchair was in use by the late eighteenth century, yet this story has Princess Elaine inventing it. The same applies to the parachute, which she invents.
She also invents the wristwatch, which didn't show up until the mid-nineteenth century in our timeline, but the real problem with this is that the premise for it failed. According to the story, Princess Elaine was inspired to think of a watch for the wrist because a guy who had been overwhelmed by her beauty (more on that shortly) had dropped his pocket watch and it broke. The problem is that pocket watches routinely have chains attached, so it's hardly likely, no matter how startled by her 'stunning beauty' he was, that it would have ended up on the floor.
None of this would be an issue had Elaine been frequently shown tinkering and inventing from the beginning, but she was not. She was shown only with a penchant for escaping out of her window, which was amusing, but hardly inventive. The stream of inventions which are ascribed to her was becoming ridiculous by about sixty-percent through the book. Not a one of them was original in the sense that it had never arisen in our timeline.
All of this inventiveness consisted of simply ascribing something to her which already exists on our world, and most of it was very simple - so simple that it did not take a genius to invent it. In fact, it was actually derivative, not inventive: all she did was add wheels to a chair, add a strap to a watch, and so on. Straps and wheels, chairs and watches already existed, she just proposed a "novel" use for them.
The printing press was invented in the fifteenth century, yet she invents this, too! And exactly how she does it is rather conveniently glossed over. She's supposed to copy out a text twenty times as a punishment, and handwriting is specifically mentioned, yet she thinks she can get away with inventing a printing press and printing twenty copies. The fact that she would have had to typeset the entire work beforehand (or represent the text in some other way) is completely ignored, as is the fact that if she did it by typesetting, she would have had to create the individual characters, too! In only three days! So her inventiveness and her inventions felt amateurish at best and cynical at worst.
Either way they were very klutzy, and we're never shown anything in the way of how she develops her thought processes or where the ideas originate. They just suddenly spring up magically, already completely formed and bubbling out of her head, like Aphrodite ejaculating from the foam of Uranus's sinking genitals.
The printing machine ("You asked the carpenter to make an automatic printing machine that you designed yourself?") was an oddity not only because it was not automatic, but because one of the princess's goals was to present an invention at the quadrennial engineering exhibition, and her printing press should have qualified easily, yet no one ever mentions it even as a potential candidate for exhibition. Instead, she obsesses on building a flying machine for the next exhibition, four years on. It seems that this was done solely to allow her to mature those four years, but it leaves a huge hole in her story. Meanwhile the printing press has spread like wildfire and made books available to the masses. It made no sense at all that she had no recognition of any sort for this.
Another anachronism was that, given how advanced some of these discoveries were (steam-power, for example was in wide use), why there would be would-be knights still training with lances and swords? Where were the firearms? Again it felt like the story had been thrown together without any real idea of what kind of world this was, and it made it seem amateur, piecemeal, and disorganized.
One example of poor planning was when Princess Elaine learns of Titanium, and decides it's exactly what she needs for lightweight tanks for her flying machine. Aluminum, which is also known in her world, is far lighter than titanium, far easier to work, and just as suited to making tanks as is titanium. It's in wide use in our world for SCUBA tanks. If Elaine had been anything of an engineer, she would have known these things, and not had to have discovered Titanium by accident from seeing it used as armor by the tournament competitors.
So the story itself was bad in many parts, but worse, there was a shockingly poor use of English. I don't mind the occasional author gaff - we all make them. I find them in my reviews on occasion when I have cause to revisit one, but there was a lot of them here, and many of them could have been caught with a spell-checker and some careful reading of the final copy before it was published. There really is little excuse for this.
Here are some examples:
- "...the right course of action is to take it up to the king, not resolving to pranks." - should be 'not resorting to pranks'.
- "...why are we supposed to learn those vocabulary when no one knows about them?" - should be 'that vocabulary'.
- "She's in the kitchens noe" - should be 'in the kitchens now'.
- "Francis Wesley, who would and probably already had, delight in reporting every single of her failure" - the mixed verb tense could have been easily fixed by re-wording.
- "Elaine pulled apart the curtains of her window and stared outside. Outside, Valeria was taking Baby Charles for a walk." Repetitive 'outside' could have been avoided.
- "Hasn't Samuel taught you that you must show, not tell?" Author, heal thyself! There's far too much tell about Elaine's engineering desires, and no show to speak of!
- "Elaine sailed into the Dome as though she were on roller skates" One doesn't sail on roller skates, one glides!
- "There was a pot of oil burning by the door. She lighted a fire in the pot" - if it was already burning, no lighting was needed!
- "...plus three inches taller. Add the bun on top of her head and she was five inches taller than her usual height. No wonder the servants seemed to have shrunk." This doesn't work! Wearing three inch heels would make the servants appear subjectively three inches shorter, but the two inch bun of hair on top of her head would add no further height to her eye-level, and three inches is hardly sufficient to make the servants all seem to have shrunk.
- "Own tried to elbow Alfred out of the way." Should be character name 'Owen', not 'own'
- "...her dodging skills remained as sharp as evet" - should be 'ever'!
- "...the cylinder was promptly finished..." and "Elaine carried it off...," - note the singular references here, but later we have "two titanium cylinders..." Where did the second one come from?!
The biggest sin, for me, was the nauseating obsession with beauty in this novel. The novel is supposed to be setting out to show that Princess Elaine was more than your usual ridiculous Disney princess, or a pretty royal façade, but the author constantly tripped herself up in this regard by repeatedly drawing our attention to the shallow and the skin-deep. I don't mind a character being described as beautiful as long as she has other qualities, but to obsess on it in the narrative (which is not the same as having a character mention it - although that can be overdone, too) is just stupid and abusive to women everywhere.
If your novel is about runway models or actors, then I can see how looks might play a part, but to make this one of the major focuses of the novel is appalling, especially when the novel is supposed to be about her other traits and skills as evidenced by the choice of title. The only thing you're achieving by doing this, is to instruct your readers that you are a shallow author who values beauty and nothing else in a woman, and by extension, that if your reader isn't beautiful, then she'd better get with the program otherwise she'll be worthless for the sole reason that there's no other trait a woman can have which can compare with beauty. Seriously? I'm not going to reward appallingly abusive behavior like that with a positive review, and female authors who routinely write like this ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, as should this author.
It's not so bad in the early stages, where the princess is only twelve, but as the story goes on, the constant references to how beautiful she is are truly stomach-churning. And hypocritical. Here's what the author says, just over half-way through the novel: "...most people still hadn't seen past her face. They valued her beauty more than her work." Well who is to blame for this? The Princess's admirers, so-called, or the fact that it's the author who has repeatedly bitch-slapped the reader with the princess's sheer beauty - not her smarts or her engineering skills, or any other trait, but her beauty? The overriding importance of beauty not just in the princess but in all young women of nobility is pounded into us from the start of the novel.
Here are some examples:
- It was unquestionable that the Linderall princess was the most beautiful woman in the Academy
- Despite a lack of regard for her appearance, [the princess] was still remarkably beautiful.
- "Your Highness is the most beautiful girl throughout the kingdom."
- "While her beauty certainly didn't measure up to Elaine's..."
Here's a particularly shameful one:
Elaine grimaced. Part of her was flattered, but since she was used to have people fawn over her beauty, she still genuinely regarded the attention a nuisance. She liked to be admired, but not by strangers. "Well, Her Highness is sixteen already! And she's the most beautiful girl in the world!"That's not only a grammatical issue, wherein it should read 'used to having', not 'used to have', but also makes her main character look like a female Narcissus. She liked to be admired? How does this even fit the character who has shut herself away in a laboratory for months? The same sad shallowness applies to male characters, too. The phrase "how tall and strong he was" put in an ugly appearance in one form or another more than once. It was as though, if a guy isn't tall and strong, then he's a piece of shit. I'm sorry, but I don't subscribe to that blinkered garbage for men any more than I buy beauty as the sole measure of a woman, especially in a novel which purports to offer a princess with something more about her.
Princess Elaine wasn't always the nicest of people, either. For example, at one point she's approaching André, her unrequited love interest, to congratulate him on his inevitable win at the tournament, when a redheaded girl rushes past her and congratulates him, kissing him on the cheek. Elaine dismisses her with this thought: "that redheaded chit' which seemed especially mean.
Elaine has no idea who this girl is. It could be his best friend, his sister or cousin, or a colleague at the academy, yet she has these inappropriately hostile thoughts right from the off. She didn't seem like a nice person at that point, but perhaps her sour attitude came from the fact that even at sixteen, her servants and her family still conspired to infantilize her, with her brother calling her 'Pumpkin,' and her maid referring to her as 'Little Princess'. It's abusive and annoying. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a young adult novel and not a middle-grade one because it sure seemed like middle-grade even after the princess grew up.
The princess's schooling at the university bore no relation to what university was like in the nineteenth century. It seemed to be based on a twenty-first century high-school model which made it sound ridiculously juvenile. There was too much of this amateur approach, which detracted from the parts of the story I did like - such as the princess's rebelliousness.
The oddest thing about the school was that not a single person showed any deference to Elaine. Don't get me wrong here. I feel that this is how it ought to be! I have no tolerance for upper class privilege, but this story was about that very thing, so in the milieu of the story, while she was a princess royal, people were not only talking to her like she was a commoner, they were treating her like one. Even the teachers had no respect! They called her by her name instead of addressing her as 'Your Highness'. Again, I'm all for that, but in the context of this story, it felt ridiculous and amateur. The story felt more like fan-fiction than ever it did a professional novel.
In addition to that, Elaine is repeatedly shown as spoiled, inconsiderate, lazy, and privileged without a thought for people less well off than herself. This is startling because André is not privileged. If she cared for him so much, then why would she not spare a thought for others like him? Again, she's not a nice girl.
This whole affair with André felt odd. Usually the problem in these YA princess romps is that the love isn't love, it's what I call instadore, and it fails because it's not real and doesn't even feel like it might be real. In the case of André it was slightly different: there was a long time for them to get to know each other - four years to be precise, but this entire period is skipped over by the author, so we experience nothing of their interaction with each other apart from two brief, too brief interactions very early on. What this means is that this "love" felt just as bad as if it had been instadore, because it had no history for us to follow and it made Elaine look immature and stupid.
Based on this observations, and despite liking this novel in the beginning, I cannot recommend it as a worthy read. In the end, it would seem the engineering idea was really no more than a flimsy veneer on top of a story that does nothing to buck tradition. The very reason I gave up on this in disgust at 75% was that the author started channeling Austen and not in a good way - it was Austen at her most maudlin worst.
In an exact parallel to the portion of Sense and Sensibility where Willoughby happens upon Marianne after her injury and speeds her home on his horse in the pouring rain, Elaine gets injured in the pouring rain and is carried by André who was evidently stalking her. She immediately starts sneezing, like rain gives people cold viruses and the virus peaks instantly!
I would have had no objection if someone had ignorantly remarked "You'll catch your death of cold" because there are stupid people. What I don't have time for is stupid authors. For an author to actually subscribe to the brain-dead notion that getting soaked in a rain shower gives you instaflu is monumental horseshit and a disgrace for a writer to buy into. This kind of moronic writing is par for the course in the majority of asinine YA "romance" novels though, I have to admit.
Elaine's dash into the deadly 'flurain' was to collect her flying machine invention, which she;d left up on the roof, and which consists of two titanium cylinders for compressed air, a leather harness to strap it on, and an engine. What? An engine. That's what I thought you said. Excuse me, but what does the engine do? I have no idea, and apparently neither does the author. It doesn't compress air, because she had to land when the air tanks run low. There was no mention of propellers, so it;s not that. How the thing worked is a mystery. Why it needed an engine is a mystery. Where she got the compressed air is a mystery, but there it is: yet another cockeyed invention from someone we're told is a genius but who we;re shown is a rip-off artist at best, and a clueless time-waster at worst.
I don't buy it, and you shouldn't either. Spend your money on someone else's novel! This one is trashy and derivative, clueless and cheap, and I actively dis-recommend it.