Princess of the Wild Sea, A Fairytale Mash-Up

by | Feb 13, 2023

The latest by Megan Frazer Blakemore has her trademark fairy tale feel and even incorporates elements from specific fairy tales that will, I think, help young readers engage with the story. At the very least it’ll feel like finding an Easter egg, a little nugget inside a larger story that pops out at the reader.

“Princess of the Wild Sea” is a story about the power of negative emotions, like hate and jealousy, as well as the danger in keeping secrets and not acknowledging one’s history, especially the dark parts.

Twelve-year-old Harbor Rose is the princess of the title. She lives on a small island with her mother, her aunts (Sapphire, Opal Pearl, Ruby, and Amethyst) and several villagers whom she has known all her life.

No one else comes to the island or leaves.

The story Harbor has heard her whole life is that her parents sent her to the island to be safe from a curse from one of her aunt, Micah, the black-sheep of the family. The curse says if she pricks her finger she will die.  (hello, Sleeping Beauty!).

Although another aunt casts some magic to soften the curse (Harbor will fall asleep if she pricks her finger), Harbor must still remain on the island until she is 13 and the curse is lifted entirely.

Then she and her family will return to her father, the king, on the mainland of Lapistyr. She dreams of returning often, not only to see her father (who visits occasionally) but also to have friends her own age, a pet cat and all the things of everyday life she doesn’t have on the island.

You all know how this works. Despite the never-ending efforts of every person on the island to prevent it, Harbor pricks her finger. When she wakes from a sleep, a small boy appears. I’m not giving much away if I say that trouble comes and the kids (with a little help) are left to deal with it.

In the course of their efforts, Harbor is forced to confront everything she thought she knew about herself, her family, her kingdom, most of which turns out to not be true. Her family and the villagers have been keeping secrets from her her entire life. Big secrets.

This plan backfired, as keeping secrets often does. In their efforts to protect Harbor from everything the least bit sad or scary, her family and friends did not prepare her for the reality of her world.

On some level this can be read as an allegory for our current world. We adults have made some big messes and are leaving the next generation to fix them, while also trying to prevent them from pondering many of life’s complexities, by limiting what they can read and talk about.

As Micah tells Harbor to explain the secrets, “The history of your father’s land is an angry and sad one, and everyone was bent on protecting you at all costs. They never wanted you to feel uncomfortable.”

Of course, feeling uncomfortable is often a sign that you are learning something important about the world.

In one of the most interesting story lines, the characters, Harbor and Peter, contemplate the meaning of a hero. Peter thinks it’s someone who is a star and saves people. He doesn’t feel like he measures up. Harbor thinks perhaps a hero is anyone who does what’s right, not necessarily what’s easy. Ultimately, I think it’s teamwork that saves them, and to me, that’s better than being a hero.

A brief postscript: On many levels, Micah is the most interesting character. She is less sheltered, more worldly and unconventional than her sisters. She shows up, for example, at a fancy gala wearing denim pants and work boots under a long flouncy skirt. Her hair is in a messy bun, tied with ribbons and string. She sounds a mess…but in fact she ends up being the wisest of all… I can imagine many readers will be intrigued by her.

Also, she has a pet wolf (hello, Little Red Riding Hood)

This review was originally published in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette

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