You ever have that moment when a book reminds you of something else and you have the hardest time getting it out of your head? That is exactly what happened to me while I was reading The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable. Almost from the very beginning, the premise of the book reminded me of Disney’s Anastasia and even though there was no real connect between the two, I could not for the life of me seem to remove the connection from my brain. In fact, as I started reading I could feel myself humming the ever familiar tune of “Once Upon A December”. Unfortunately, unlike the love I feel for the completely unrelated movie, I only found myself feeling a sense of like for this book.
The Wolf Princess tells the story of orphan Sophie Smith. She is at a boarding school in London because her guardian does not really want anything to do with her. She is also at the boarding school almost completely on scholarship so she is not seen as “up to par” as some of the other students. Her two best friends Delphine and Marriane are always by her side but she still feels a sense of loneliness and disconnect. So, when she gets signed up to a trip to Russia with the school, she starts thinking that all her adventurous dreams will come true. But when they get there, they find themselves escorted by a princess to a palace where nothing is exactly what it seems. It is a place of secrets, and lies, and Sophie must discover the truth of the ruins before it is too late.
The one thing that stuck out for me when I was reading this story was the gorgeous wintry setting. Images of fresh, untouched snow sparkling under a cold winter moon took my breath away. Especially when it was panned with images of lonely white wolves howling at the moon. It was a thing of pure beauty, and created a very haunting background for the once beautiful now broken down palace which the majority of the story takes place. It was the perfect pairing for the story. I also enjoyed the bits of Russian history and Russian language that were used throughout the story. Both of these things added to the setting which I was so in love with.
Sadly, the setting was really the only thing that stuck out for me in The Wolf Princess. I had a really hard time connecting to the characters. I found them to be a bit naïve especially for the age that I was imagining them to be. I think I was picturing 11-13 year old girls in my mind so I guess I thought they would be more suspicious of what was going on around them. Especially when they are randomly invited to stay a castle with a princess that none of them have ever heard of before in their lives. Also, I figured out the big secret in the story in no time flat (it really is kind of predictable) but, it took them almost the entire book to learn it. Maybe it’s because I’m older, and this is geared more toward a middle grade audience but still, I felt like the characters could have been more intuitive than they were.
I also felt that the characters could have been developed a bit more. They just seemed all very one dimensional to me. Like they were just there for the story, and nothing else. Oh, and the ending was a bit anti-climatic for me. I definitely left the book thinking “that’s it?” because I wanted more from it even as much as I didn’t connect with the characters. I feel like there could have been more development to the ending, and less of a rushed finish. Maybe if I was younger and reading this book for the first time, I would feel less like I do, and would have been able to get more wrapped up in the story. I do think a younger audience will find the appeal of the “fairytale” like The Wolf Princess.
Disclosure: Received ARC at BEA 2013
Other reviews of The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable:
A Reader Daydreamer: “Let Cathryn Constable whisk you away on a train through a cold, Russian winter night…“
Wrathqueen’s Books: “The overall plot reminded me of The Little Princess meets Cinderella. “