There is nothing quite like the reassurance of the familiar in the midst of craziness. Some of my best childhood memories come from the fairytales I read growing up; couple that with the clean romance genre, and you’ve definitely got a winner in my book!
Last year, I discovered The Four Kingdoms series by Melanie Cellier, which includes retellings of many different familiar (and unfamiliar) fairytales. I fell in love with the characters and the world, which led to binge reading the whole series in a couple of weeks! The stories continued with the Beyond the Four Kingdoms series and, in 2020, the Return to the Four Kingdoms series.
I just finished The Secret Princess, which is the first in this second spin-off series. It follows the story of Princess Giselle (mentioned in A Dance of Silver & Shadow, and then more formally introduced in A Crown of Snow & Ice, which was an excellent retelling of The Snow Queen originally by Hans Christian Anderson) as she visits Arcadia for the first time. I loved that we get to revisit several of the main characters from the original series (The Princess Companion, which was the very first of Melanie Cellier’s retellings), particularly Princess Alyssa and her adorable children!
The story is based on the Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm, which I have to admit I’m not particularly familiar with. But the main part of the story involves the role-swapping of a princess with her servant girl. While the servant girl plays the role of princess, the princess becomes the goose girl (think shepherd except with geese). Cellier’s version focuses on this part of the story as Princess Giselle becomes trapped in the role of goose girl while trying to rescue her kingdom from the schemes of those around her.
It also features an incredibly satisfying love triangle between Phillip and Damon, both very attractive men who attempt to help her along the way. I have to say I was torn between them for the vast majority of the book, even though I thought I knew which way the romance would go. The twists at the end made perfect sense and left me waiting anxiously for the next book in the series!
I also appreciated the underlying themes of what a “true princess” is as Giselle wrestles with how to prove herself as the princess to those around her. Instead of the traditional version of the pretty princess who falls in love with the prince, we see an intelligent and creative young woman who understands the work that her role requires.
The only downside of the book was the character of Arvin, who is introduced within the first few pages of the book as a talking horse which communicates only with Giselle. He’s a gift from her godmother, meant to help and protect her along her journey. (Which is actually an allusion to the original Goose Girl fairytale, where a talking horse plays a prominent role.) However, I found his dialogue distracting. Although he did help Giselle on occasion, I also saw several times where he was part of her problems instead. I’m interested to see if he plays a different type of role in future books.
Overall, I would give the book a 4.5 out of 5 stars! Definitely would recommend for anyone looking for a clean and entertaining read!