Book Review : The Two Princesses of Bamarre

Book Review : The Two Princesses of BamarreThe Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
Published by HarperCollins on March 1st 2004
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy & Magic, Fairy Tales & Folklore, General, Family, Siblings
Pages: 304
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"Step follows step. Hope follows courage. Set your face toward danger. Set your heart on victory."
Princess Meryl dreams of one day protecting the kingdom of Bamarre, while timid Princess Addie is content to stay always within the safety of the castle walls. The one trait they share is their devotion to each other. Their world is turned upside down, though, when Meryl is stricken by the incurable Gray Death. To save her sister, Addie must set out on a dangerous quest filled with dragons, unknown magic, and death itself. Time is running out, and the sisters’ lives -- and the future of Bamarre -- hang in the balance.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre was one of my favorite books growing up and when I saw Emily @ Monsterlady’s Diary rereading it, I was inspired to read it as well. I was worried that The Two Princesses of Bamarre might not be as great as little Kate remembered the novel, but I needn’t have worried–even for an adult reader, The Two Princesses of Bamarre is a delightful and magical read, albeit with some imperfections that are only obvious to adult readers. 


The novel features the eponymous two princesses, with the eldest brave, small, and fair, and with the youngest being timid, tall, and dark. Though the eldest Meryl dreams of going on adventures, she agrees to remain at home in the safety of their castle until her younger sister Adeline “Addie,” marries. Though Addie vows to never marry so her sister can remain safely at home with her throughout their days, everything changes when Meryl is struck with the Gray Death, the infamous and fatal plague of Bamarre. 


“Meryl understood me, although we were as different as could be. she was fair, and I was dark complexioned. She was small and compact, a concentration of focused energy. I was always tall for my age, and loose-limbed, and my energy was nervous and fluttery. Meryl was brave, and I was afraid of almost everything–from monsters to strangers to spiders.” 


Determined to save her beloved sister, the cowardly Addie sets out on a quest to discover a cure for the disease that will inevitably claim her sister otherwise. Equipped with seven league boots, a spyglass, a sword with the name Blood Biter, a magic tablecloth, some Elven flowers with healing properties, and a not-quite invisibility cloak, Addie has plenty of magic on her side as she encounters the stuff of her nightmares–ogres, gryphons, dragons, and worst of all, spiders. Throughout all of these adventures, Addie faces her fears with aplomb, thinking both on her feet and ahead to surmount any obstacles in the way of saving her sister’s. Addie is the perfect role model for young readers–she is not without her faults, but she learns to move past them with courage and perseverance and never loses sight of what’s important. A lot of young adult authors could learn from Addie’s characterization and strength when writing their own female heroines. 


I also really loved that though short, The Two Princesses of Bamarre takes the time to set up the relationship between Meryl and Addie at home in the comfort of their royal castle at Bamarre. This makes it all the more gripping when vivacious Meryl is struck so suddenly with the disease. However I must say, in this pandemic world we live in, I was a little confused that the Gray Death did not appear to be contagious, though it struck often and greatly at random. It was a little hard to wrap my head around the Gray Death not being contagious even when View Spoiler ». I also didn’t think it was great that Addie was initially convinced that people could just say to the disease “no, thank you” and fight it in order to not succumb to it (something that has never been successfully accomplished and no one has even ever thought of suggesting because the disease as universally viewed as a death sentence), until her sister is struck with the disease and is unsurprisingly unable to fight it off with willpower. 


Addie has little sympathy for her chambermaid that dies from the disease after failing to fight it off with willpower. And she basically remarks something along the lines of, “oh well, Meryl is all that matters to me.” Though this casual aside demonstrates ignorance, it does also signify just how sheltered and naive Addie truly was before setting off on her adventures to save her sister. As this sheltered bringing and ignorance allows Addie more room for growth as a character, I can give her rather insensitive attitude a pass, especially because she was distraught over Meryl being stricken. 


I also could’ve done without Addie’s romance to the court sorcerer that manages to happen despite her sister being struck with a fatal illness. Though, I guess it isn’t the first time someone has sought comfort during grief. The Two Princesses of Bamarre does a good job of keeping Addie from relying on her love interest as a crutch to save her too, which is something I appreciate, even if I thought the romance was a largely unnecessary addition to a story about two sisters. The Two Princesses of Bamarre doesn’t do a great job adding in this romance like Frozen does for its own younger sister, Ana.


I still have conflicted feelings about the bittersweet ending of the novel as well.  It also struck me as odd that during the View Spoiler » 


“I finally saw the real difference between Meryl and me, truer than the difference between cowardly and brave. She wanted to battle monsters for the adventure of it. I wanted to defeat them for the peace that followed.”


I definitely would recommend The Two Princesses of Bamarre to younger readers. Though I didn’t like it quite as much as when I was a young girl reading it for the first time, it was still a fun read that I enjoyed revisiting. And I definitely didn’t nitpick all of these things as a young reader and just plain loved the book. If you are looking for a fantasy novel with a strong female heroine and a story of sisterly love, look no further than The Two Princesses of Bamarre. I could also see fans of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles enjoying this novel as well.

Book Review : The Two Princesses of Bamarre - Book Review

Posted February 1, 2022 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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