The Unhandsome Prince
by John Moore
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0441012876
Date: 26 April, 2005 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
You gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.
At least, that's Caroline?s plan in The Unhandsome Prince by John Moore. The story opens with Caroline having retrieved the luckless Prince Hal from a swamp, after a long and aggravating search. Problem is, she was promised a handsome prince and Hal... well, he's got a great personality.
What Hal also has is two legitimately handsome older brothers, a kingdom sinking under his father's reckless spending and a mountain of debt, and a witch-in-training-- also the daughter of the witch who cursed Hal into frog-shape-- who thinks Hal is fine, handsome or not.
And Hal is a great guy. The people love him and he seems to know everyone. Being the third prince, he mainly handles errands for his father-- for which the kingdom is well paid. His survival is not all that important but Hal's developed a knack for creative problem solving and heroics. (These skills come in very handy later on.)
Caroline and the apprentice witch, Emily, follow Hal to the city so that Caroline can find and marry a handsome prince and Emily can find a magic teacher. Once there, they discover the pitfalls of life in the big (medieval) city, while an even worse predicament soon surfaces: there's a limited amount of time before Hal reverts to being a frog forever... and Caroline has some tough choices to make, unless they can find a loophole.
At the same time, a sorcerous plot to make money ensnares the group. Rumplestiltskin, a midget with a persecution complex, seeks a girl who can spin flax into gold using his enchanted spindle, while Hal's bullying brother Kenneth sets out to launch a "purge" of the kingdom in order to clear his father's debts. A tournament with magical swords, gambling, a savage warrior (and con man) named Bear McAllistair and a tower-dwelling recluse known as Rapunzel also work into the tale.
Moore has a twisted take on fairytale cliches, which makes his work fun, unpredictable and a light-hearted read. The characters may seem like fairytale archetypes but they transcend the genre, coming close to broad winks at the reader without going over the line, even as the story accelerates steadily toward a satisfying (and, naturally, romantic) conclusion.
Those looking for a fast-paced, humorous fantasy to read would do well to check out The Unhandsome Prince. Maybe you really can't judge a book by its cover...