E.D. Baker
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

What if Sleeping Beauty wasn’t an only child? What if she had a younger sister whose only gift from the fairies was that she could not be touched by magic, and that in fact magic recoiled from her?

Princess Annabelle has not had a great childhood; her family hold a distance from her, worried that all the enchantments used to better their appearance will fade when she is near and instead spend their time fussing over her older sister Gwendolyn, who is beautiful of course, but also cursed. But when despite all the precautions put in place a spinning wheel finds its way to Gwennie and the castle fall into a deep sleep, it is up to Annie, untouched by the magic, to go out and find a suitable prince charming to kiss her sister and break the spell.

I was attracted to this book straight-away because I have a penchant for fairy-tale retellings but also because I just love the title! I was slightly worried at the girlie cover but decided to overlook that and read the book anyway. I wasn’t disappointed, because this really is one fun book.

I think The Wide-Awake Princess is particularly successful because of its angle on fairy tales, which I found very refreshing. The idea behind The Wide-Awake Princess is that all the beauty that is found in fairy-tales (I’m talking about Disney and contemporary version of fairy-tales, rather the darker original Perrault, Grimm et al versions) is fake. Everything, from flowers to buildings and of course people are bettered by magic to look more beautiful. Everything except Annie, who not only looks the way she should, much to her family’s disgust, but can also peer through the magic to see how things and people really are.
For these reasons, Annie is the opposite to a damsel in distress, and so lovable for it. She is a strong-minded, brave and independent young girl and a rather feisty princess if truth be told! She is a great heroine, and a great role model, because despite that strength of character she still has a lot of empathy for people, including her sister, who quite honestly does not really deserve it. All these attributes are mirrored in Liam, a young guard (or so he tells us) who accompanies her in her quest to find a prince charming. It is those two protagonists who hold this tale together as we follow them on their quest; while on their journey, their relationship develops and secrets are slowly revealed.

E.D. Baker weaves many traditional fairy tales within this story. Of course Annie’s sister is Sleeping Beauty but Hansel and Gretel, The Frog Prince, The Princess and the Pea, Snow White and Rose Red and most hilariously Rapunzel all make an appearance. I think Rapunzel’s reputation is going to suffer quite a bit from this book, but I really enjoyed the hints at her most unlady-like behaviour.

The take the idea of prince charming in The Wide-Awake Princess is also quite successful. Most of the princes are cads, and of not, they are utterly fickle. In fact the only two princes that have any redeeming features at all are Liam, of course, but also Beldegard to some extent, who has been turned into a bear, cannot rely on his good looks and is often genuinely kind. The others, on the other hand, are just as bad as each other.

The message behind this fun novel is however quite clear: don’t be fooled by people that appear to have all the glitz and glamour. Sometimes, behind all the beautiful clothes, the sparkly jewels and the big houses, people are not what they seem. All that exterior padding is not real and people cannot always be trusted when they hide behind enhanced looks and unnatural smiles. Liam and Annie achieve more than anyone in the story despite being the only two characters untouched by magic. They are real people, and are in no way perfect, and yet they are the ones with kind intentions and respect for others. I cannot help but hope that the targeted audience will hold on to that thought and will remember it when they start being dazzled by A-listers and drawn into the cult of so-called celebrities.

But despite this more serious message of the story, I think The Wide-Awake Princess is first and foremost a story full of humour and adventure, with plenty of twists and intrigue, and a hint of chick-lit for younger girls. Because yes, it is “happy ever after” for the two protagonists at the end but there is nothing wrong with a bit of love and happiness, especially when the two main characters actually deserve it.

I think this a great novel for girls age nine and above, whether they are fans of princesses or the opposite, because I think both will find their worth in The Wide-Awake Princess.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for providing a review copy of “The Wide-Awake Princess”.