"The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party" by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale.

“The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party” by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale.

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, continues the tale of Princess Magnolia, who (spoiler alert!) lives a secret life as the Princess in Black. The story begins on the princess’ birthday. She’s planned the perfect princess party. A dozen princesses are on their way. Then the princess’s monster-alert ring sounds, and she’s off to defend hapless goats from encroaching monsters.

This continues as the party progresses, and Magnolia has to create ways to slip away. Finally, worn out and tired of having to leave her perfect princess party again and again and again, Magnolia yells at the last monster, who gives her twelve pretty pink stones and goes back to Monster Land. The story ends happily, with the party ultimately a success and no one figuring out Magnolia’s secret identity.

I hate to say this—I’m generally a big fan of Shannon Hale’s works—but I did not love The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party. There are many good things about it, and it’s clearly meant for early readers (I’m well past the target audience’s age), but I did not love it.

The plot was predictable and utterly lacking the nuance that characterizes her older fantasy works. The book’s overall premise is cute, but (strange to say for such a short book) it has too little premise stretched over too many pages. Not that Shannon and Dean couldn’t have told a good story. There are interesting questions that could have been addressed, while keeping content appropriate for young readers.

Why, other than the obvious “EAT GOATS!”, are monsters invading? Is there a famine in Monster Land? Why does Princess Magnolia care about keeping her secret identity secret? No one else in the book, except possibly Blacky, seems to care, so why does she? Speaking of Magnolia’s worthy steed, why does Blacky need his own monster-alert ring? There are any number of interesting directions The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party could have gone. It didn’t. I was disappointed.

Princess Magnolia was moderately amusing. Princess Sneezewort roused my sympathy and (briefly) my interest, and the pink monster toward the end of the book managed an independent thought that didn’t involve goats. But the other characters (including Duff, who certainly did not get his job as goatherd from any level of skill protecting goats) were completely flat. Not even characters, really—just names with a token line or two.

Again, I know, The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party is for early readers. But it is possible to create interesting, vibrant characters using just a few words that young readers can grasp. This book came close with Princess Sneezewort and with the pink monster at the end, but still…it’s disappointing when the only characters that feel like characters are fairly minor supporting characters.

There were good points to the book. The illustrations are completely delightful. Sir Hogswell (Princess Sneezewort’s pig mount) actually made me giggle. Some of Princess Magnolia’s methods of distracting her guests are quite creative. The ending was more satisfying than I had expected it to be.

I can imagine girls in early elementary school enjoying this book (though even they might be left rolling their eyes or asking “why?” in a few spots). The story really is cute, and I will give other books in the series a chance. The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party needed to be a little more than just cute, though, to carry it over its length.

Release Date: October 13, 2015 (USA)
ISBNs: 0763665118 (9780763665111)
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Language: English

MySF Rating:Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 100%

Content:

Alcohol/Drugs: 0
Language: 0
Sexuality: 0
Violence: 1 (goofy slapstick violence on hungry monsters)