Rating: 3 stars
Prince Donal and his younger brother, Caolan, are hunting in the royal woods when a mysterious stranger saves Caolan from a wild boar. A case of love at first sight, the two make a pact saying that they will meet back in the woods as soon as possible, saving themselves only for each other. But royal politics interfere with that promise as their evil stepmother is plotting to kill them and have her nephew seated on the throne. To interfere with her plans, the princes are sent away for their safety and Caolan never returns to the woods.
The princes plan to stay in exile until Donal comes of age but a trick by their stepmother, Queen Doireann, sends the brothers on a quest to obtain the Horse of Bells from the Dark Prince, a mission destined to fail as all the others who have tried have been put to death after entering the Dark Prince’s lands. On their journey, the stranger from the woods joins them in their travels. But the kindness is gone and in its place a bitterness towards Caolan that threatens to derail their mission before they get started. In this fairy tale, two brothers must fight for their honor and for love if a happily ever after is to be theirs for the taking.
This story has all the basics of a fairy tale. It has the princes in danger, the evil stepmother, the clueless King, the dark strangers to the rescue, and even a magical horse. What is missing from this tale is the charm to go with the Prince Charmings, the warmth and glow of a childhood tale reworked for adults. I love a good adult fairy tale but unfortunately this one felt a bit flat.
I will skip over the two instances of instant love as that is certainly permissible in a fairy tale, but give me characters that make it even a little bit believable. All of the characters that Pelaam delivers are pretty one dimensional people, from the princes to the Dark Prince to the King. Even fairytale characters must be fleshed out enough that we identify with them to some degree. How can we feel any angst at all that the prince will be torn away form his true love if we don’t care about the characters? All have so little depth that it flattens out the story, wiping it of any gaiety and joy associated with stories of this genre. It did have one little bit of darkness in it but it felt out of place considering all that had gone on before.
I did like the magical Horse of Bells, a nice creation and the stepmother was suitably “evil” in her mechanisms but I keep waiting for the literary magic to begin, to be swept away into a enchantedl kingdom, where everyone is gay, and all good Princes wait for their Prince to appear. That would have made a great fairytale. But I can tell you after reading this, I am still waiting for that Kingdom to appear.