I was browsing in The Last Bookshop in Oxford, which has an excellent 2 for £5 deal, when I spotted a cool looking purple book with a dragon on it. That turned out to be the third omnibus in the series, so of course, since I can’t start midway through a series, I had to search out the other two volumes on the internet when I got home! This first omnibus has The Frog Princess, Dragon’s Breath and Once Upon a Curse.
Book: The Frog Princess Omnibus by E. D. Baker
Read before: No.
Ownership: Paperback, secondhand from Amazon Marketplace.
The only thing I knew about this going in was that the first book was a retelling of The Frog Prince, and that Disney had used it as the story inspiration for The Princess and The Frog. However, neither of those facts is particularly useful! The film is a VERY loose adaptation, using only the plot point that kissing a frog turns the princess into a frog too. There’s no 1920s New Orleans setting here, just a classical fantasy Middle Ages mid-Europe with castles and tournaments and princesses (which I much prefer).
In fact, the whole setting and tone of the books reminded me much more of Dealing With Dragons – you have an Enchanted Swamp rather than a Forest, but the no-nonsense Princess Emma reminded me of Cimorene in her witty, intelligent, and ultimately sensible approach to solving her problems. One of my favourite archetypes of fantasy heroine is the bookish, clever, practical girl (Cimorene, Belle, Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle), so Emma is what made this book perfect for me. I loved that Eadric is not a typical Prince Charming – he messed up by insulting a witch and getting turned into a frog, in the first place. He’s bright but clumsy, acts before thinking, and is always looking for a snack. He has a lot of character development as he realises he has to be a bit more like Emma and think about situations. They’re very well-suited as love interests, and I like that she is clearly the leader in their relationship.
The first book focuses on Emma and Eadric’s journey as frogs to find a way back to human form, The second is a quest to find the ingredients to break a curse put on Emma’s aunt’s true love (who has been turned into an otter) and the third is a journey back in time to break a curse on all the female members of Emma’s family (who will become evil if they touch a flower after the age of 16). There are a lot of curses on this family! Kudos to E.D. Baker for handling the strings of these curses across all three books, as each one appears in all three books, so the plots never appear as ‘oh whoops a new thing we have to solve’. They flow very naturally into and from one another, so this really feels like the continuation of Emma’s story.
All three books are pacey and well-written, with Emma and Eadric meeting an array of magical people and beings, most of whom are extremely polite and oddly British (another thing that reminds me of Dealing with Dragons). There’s some wonderful humour in the writing, such as the concept of a witches’ retirement village, the dragon tournament, and the character of L’il, an ex-familiar bat with an attitude. I really liked the slightly more serious side of things, too, as Emma learns about the responsibilities that come with being a princess and the kingdom’s Green Witch. I thought that this was well-handled without being moralistic – it did a good job of breaking down the stereotype that a princess’s job is to be pretty and vapid.
It’s hard to say if these fall into Middle Grade or Young Adult; the fairytale setting and cover style implies younger, but Emma is 16, and as the books progress there is a little bit of romance (though nothing physical) and discussion of marriage. I think they’d absolutely be suitable for younger readers, but are witty enough and irreverent enough to suit older readers too. There’s a real playfulness in the way that tropes are dissected and shaped into new, unexpected fun that means they should have a wide appeal. I can certainly see these finding their way onto my favourite comfort read shelf!
Five cats overall for being simply lovely!