Yes! Another review in time for the holiday season! I seem to have managed to throw off most of my malaise with regard to reading. Happy days!
All right, on with the review! Today we are looking at Mary Catelli’s The Princess Seeks Her Fortune*. If you recall, I reviewed another of Ms. Catelli’s stories here. That was a short story only available on Kindle, while this is a novel you can purchase in paperback* as well as ebook. Here is the blurb for Princess:
In a land where ten thousand fairy tales come true, Alissandra knows she is in one when an encounter with a strange woman gives her magical gifts, and another gives her sisters a curse. And she knows that despite the prospects of enchantments, cursed dances, marvelous birds, and work as a scullery maid, it is wise of her to set out, and seek her fortune.
The Princess Seeks Her Fortune is comparable to Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle* and Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles* in that it takes fairy tales and folklore seriously. Where it differs from both these famous series is that it removes its tongue from its cheek. Rather than giggle over the familiar plots of fairy tales that are well known, The Princess Seeks Her Fortune plays the whole matter straight as an arrow.
Princess Alissandra is the middle of three daughters. We first meet her mending a shirt while listening to her sisters and mother talk to an elderly maiden aunt of the family named Donata. Donata makes the mistake of telling both girls they ought to be more like Alissandra.
Wincing at this, Alissandra puts aside the shirt she was sewing for orphans and heads out to deliver the others she has already made, mostly so she can get out of earshot of her family for a while. Both Esmeralda and Iolande take the opportunity to sneer at her as she leaves while her mother attempts to lure her into an argument. In this way, we learn Alissandra recently fell further out of favor with her family by using her dowry money to pay for a poor woman’s funeral.
Due to a plague, the poor woman spent all her money on charity, helping her neighbors until she herself became sick and died. Alissandra had business in the town and learned that, until the outstanding debts were paid, the woman’s corpse would not be buried. Period, end of story. They would rather let her sit and rot in the chapel.
Thus Alissandra paid her debts out of her own pocket, and now her family hates her more than ever for being “the perfect princess” – even if she is “the middle one.”
Along with her maid, Lizina, Alissandra heads down a not-so-secret passage to leave the castle. Before getting very far, she and Lizina spot a girl trying to take water from the well. Unfortunately, the girl is blind and has more water on her dress than in the cup.
With a smile, Alissandra offers to help her. She no sooner aids the girl in getting a drink than the “girl” promises that roses will fall from her hair when she combs it and lilies will fall from her hands when she washes them. Once she has given the princess this blessing, she vanishes…and some nearby gawping orphans run off to tell their friends the story.
Pretty soon the tale is all over the city, if not the kingdom, and Esmeralda and Iolande are furious. They head out to receive their own blessing and instead are cursed. When they get back, Esmeralda and Iolande state they will rescue themselves while their father promises that Alissandra will follow them to comb her hair and wash her hands until they accomplish this feat. The flowers she produces cast a sweet scent that counters the curse borne by her older sister.
But Alissandra is not having that – not when her life at the castle is already unbearable. She sets out to seek her fortune in the world, accompanied only by Lizina, and walks to the next kingdom. Along the way she saves several birds from snakes, prompting the former to gift her with objects of magical importance. “I grow richer and richer with things I cannot sell,” she tells Lizina.
If you love fairy tales, you will enjoy The Princess Seeks Her Fortune. I do not know half as many of the fairy tales as went into the creation of this book, but I recognized and enjoyed finding those references I could link to this story. Seeing them acknowledged and celebrated here was a treat, readers!
Moreover, as with Fever and Snow*, I must praise Ms. Catelli’s understanding and presentation of the Fair Folk. She nails their inhuman nature, their greed for things that are real or have substance, and the deadly danger they present to those who fall within their grasp. These are not the Fair Folk of popular culture – neither the sexy honeypots of The Dresden Files* nor the gentle fairy godmothers and small pixies most associate with Disney, and which have become ubiquitous over time through a variety of influences. These are creatures who are not human, and though they may not be angel or demon, they are not beings with which to trifle. Cross them at your own peril.
Finally, I have to make a point about Alissandra herself. It is a sad point only insofar as the modern world needs to be reminded of it, and that is, the princess often does save herself – by helping her prince save her. Alissandra wields no weapon in The Princess Seeks Her Fortune. Unlike Wrede’s Cimorene, she never took fencing lessons or picked up a sword. In contrast to Sophie Hatter in Howl’s Moving Castle, she cannot talk life into things with her natural magic.
There is nothing wrong with either of these heroines having these abilities, but the fact is, they are not typical of fairy tale princesses. Ms. Catelli’s heroine is typical of fairy tale princesses. She only has her will, her courage, her determination, and her wit to see her through this adventure to her happily ever after. All of these traits are informed by her moral compass, which points true north no matter the hardships she must endure. Those difficulties range from the mild to the outright deadly but if she had no such guide Alissandra would not be able to navigate her trials nearly so well. The fates of her sisters attest to that quite clearly.
If you are looking for a fairy tale for your daughter, niece, goddaughter, or granddaughter this Christmas, consider The Princess Seeks Her Fortune. This lovely novel is sure to make any girl happy no matter her age, and it will appeal to anyone who is “not too grown up” for fairy tales. Don’t wait, pick it up today!
*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.
If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth. She has also had stories published in the Planetary Anthology Series. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue in 2020, and she had a story published in Storyhack Magazine’s 7th Issue, Cirsova Magazine’s 2021 Summer Issue, and another may be read over at Ember Journal. Her first anthology – The Guardian Cycle – is available in paperback and ebook as well. Order them today!
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3 thoughts on “Review: The Princess Seeks Her Fortune by Mary Catelli”
Thank you !
“Fever and Snow ” can be bought in paper albeit only in the collection Curses And Wonders
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Aha! Thank you. I did not realize that.
Also, you’re welcome – I REALLY enjoyed this book! 😀
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