As the title indicates, The Two Princesses of Bamarre is about Addie and Meryl, two young princesses in a land beset by ogres, gryphons, specters and dragons. Worst of all is a mysterious disease called the Gray Death, which inevitably is fatal to
those who contract it. There is a prophecy that states:
The Gray Death will be cured
When cowards find courage
And rain falls over all Bamarre
One plot device I don't like in stories is that if there is a prophecy involved, it invariably comes true. If there is any surprise, it is how the words of a prophecy are interpreted. I wish this Levine had left it out of this story.
Meryl is the adventurous princess, she imagines that when she is older that she will slay ogres and dragons and build Bamarre into a proserous kingdom. Addie is the younger sister, she is the cowardly princess; she is even afraid of spiders, let alone the monsters who haunt the landscape. Addie convinces Meryl to not
venture forth, because it would be too risky. Then Meryl contracts the Gray Death, and Addie realizes that it is she who must venture forth in a desperate search of a cure. Dragons are supposed to have vast knowledge, they might know of a way to defeat the Gray Death, but why would a dragon
give Addie such knowledge?
There are several things I liked about this novel. I liked the huge powerful dragon Vollys, and her viewpoint of the legendary exploits of the great warrior Drualt (who slew dragons, among other feats). The citizens of Bamarre have an epic poem called Drualt, which
is a long song/poem about Drualt's achievements. This poem gives Bamarre a sense of history and culture, so it is a nice bit of world building.
I also like the evil specters, which are ghost-like malevolent spirits who can assume disguises to lure humans into fatal traps. Addie has a couple of creepy encounters with these deceitful wraiths.
Addie gets around by wearing seven-league boots - magical footwear that allows her to cover 7 leagues (about 21 miles) in a single step. It is nice to see Addie struggle to use these magical boots - one step moves her at great speed, she has to elude
trees and obstacle, and be careful her step does not land her in a lake, or worse.
Addie has a lot of magical devices. An invisible cloak. A spyglass that can focus on apparently infinite distances, even if they are over the horizon. Addie has a magical tablecloth that will unfold a feast upon command, it will keep producing food forever. She has flowers of
the moily herb which apparently do a wonderous job of healing just about anything. Plus the wizard Rhys has more magic - he flies around and comes to Addie's aid at various points in the novel. Also, there seem to be invisible spirits who are helping Addie along. I thought the magic was overdone, especially for
such a short story, the trade paperback edition is only 239 pages. Since Addie doesn't even embark on her quest for the cure until page 78, the adventure seems too short - a lot of setup, but then the actual derring-do is all too brief. I did like the encounter with Vollys though.
The portrayal of the Gray Death isn't that well explained - there seems to be no means of transmission, people simply become sick. The healthy people who nurse the infected have no fear of getting infected themselves. The course of the disease is so predictable that its victims know exactly how
many days they have to live in each stage of the disease, this apparently never varies for any ailing person.
I didn't think the ending was that strong, The assembled force of gryphons and ogres should have been undefeatable. I would have preferred a different outcome. Levine has several other books that I have not yet read, I will keep her in mind on my next trip to the library.