by Gail Carson Levine
Unconditional Recommendation: A timid young princess finds her courage when she faces fantastical creatures on her quest to find the knowledge to save her beloved sister.
When I was in elementary school, I read Ella Enchanted and absolutely loved it. Naturally, I then explored other books that the author had written and I found The Two Princesses of Bamarre. I remember that I liked it but I had gotten rid of the book so I picked it up again at a book sale recently to give it another read. I’m very happy to say that it’s better than I remember.
Gail Carson Levine does a fantastic job of creating characters of depth and individuality and then putting them in a world that suits them perfectly. The plot is engaging and the whole book is an adventure after a calm start. There is a simple romance between Addie and the sorcerer named Rhys that is very well done and completely understated. The emphasis of the book is the relationship between the two sisters and what each would do for the other because of their shared love.
The kingdom of Bamarre is terrorized by its fantastical monsters: ogres, specters, griffins, and dragons; but, the Gray Death is even more fearsome. People randomly contract the Gray Death and go through the predictable illness to their inevitable deaths because there is no cure. Princess Meryl is bold and brave and wants to save Bamarre from its terrors and her sister, Princess Addie is timid and fearful. When Meryl contracts the Gray Death, Princess Addie chooses to venture out on a quest to face monsters and find the cure.
The story is told from Princess Addie’s point of view and it is immediately evident how different she is from her sister, who she admires and adores. Meryl often serves as Addie’s protection from any kind of monster from spiders to specters and the relationship between the sisters is strong and true. Meryl never looks down on Addie because of her fears and you never doubt that she loves her sister without reservation. Addie’s character grows in great ways through the course of the book: growing out of her fears, growing into someone more mature and capable, and growing into her own identity, outside of the kind of person she thought she was and always would be.
I am especially delighted that Addie’s motivation to go on a dangerous quest is the love of her sister. Her love for her sister and her sister’s love for her drives Addie to be courageous when she wants to give up or when she faces terrible monsters. The portrayal of their relationship is so good and heartwarming. It’s not often that I read a story about a good, strong, loving relationship between sisters and I am so happy to find it in this book.
The ending is happy but with a twist. It ends perfectly and leaves you with a strong sense of future hope—that there is life after death and death doesn’t have the final victory though it does cause heartache, separation, and grief. The ending is so hopeful and good and I think you could draw some spiritual parallels out of it but I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to give the ending away! I was thinking about this book for days after I finished it.
This is a truly enjoyable book with very uplifting characters. It is kingdoms and dragons and swords and magical objects and friendship and love and hope all in one book. It’s GREAT. Happy reading!