Earlier this month I spent about three days revisiting the Princelings books. I reread books 4 through to 10 to see what I think of them now. Importantly, to see how the recommendations work that I’ve been giving to people at the Gift Fairs who want to skip the early books. It was an interesting experience.
Especially as I started at number 7.
Willoughby the Narrator (#7)
I keep thinking Willoughby is a possible jumping in spot for the series. Willoughby has been left behind when the time tunnel closes. He has to make his way in a world that is alien to him, but he has plenty of hidden talents, and he makes good use of them.
I think it might work for new readers, because he starts at the end of the first book, and picks up references to everything going on in the Realms as his story develops. So, if you haven’t read the previous books, you more or less get the story arc for the series.
But you don’t really. To me it just felt a bit precious every time I came across an incident from the other books, even when it was Willoughby in another book (book 5), rather than seeing other people (Fred and George) in a different time and place, or making up the story of the Battle of Dimerie for his use as a narrator.
The story is fine in itself, and is a lot better once it gets into the wholly new part. Maybe I just felt uncomfortable because I kept thinking I’d got the timeline wrong. I’m sure I didn’t, I have it laid out in a spreadsheet and all the books are there, with all the key dates (and times).
And I did enjoy the story, and Willoughby’s stories, and I think it is one of the best of the series.
The Princelings of the North (#8)
I think of this book very fondly, partly because Dylan and Dougall were such a pair of characters (almost as charismatic as Fred and George). I wasn’t that enamoured of the first few chapters, though. They rescue Kevin from his dreadful exile in the autumn, but it’s not until March that they set off for their adventure going south to help Kevin recover his heritage. So although the first couple of chapters have some exciting moments, it’s not until they’ve left that the story really comes alive, to me, anyway. After that it’s pretty good 🙂
And as I started it hours after finishing Willoughby, which has an exciting ending, maybe I’m asking too much of myself.
Chronicles of Marsh (#9)
For a book that is designed to bring us up to date with everything going on at Castle Marsh since Fred took over, about six months after we last saw him in book 3, it’s not bad. It’s a book for series enthusiasts, trying to show how the realms is changing because of progress, especially George’s inventions. Tori said it’s her favourite, and there are plenty of anecdotes in here that I love. It’s a cosy read, with premonitions of doom built in. But again, I kept thinking I’d messed up the timeline. It’s my head that is messed up, not the books!
Princelings Revolution (#10)
Despite starting with a bang, then quickly feeding in to the birthday party which is sabotaged, I still didn’t feel it really got going till after that. Is this me? Am I just so convinced I can’t get the start of a book right, so I denigrate my own work? There is lots of this story that I really love. There are a few bits that I planned from the start which I don’t think work. And I think my beta readers told me that, but I couldn’t see a way out. Should I have dropped the mistaken identity sub-plot? Probably yes, since it wasn’t part of the main plot. Although it did bring a couple of characters together who needed to meet. Ah well.
I also now don’t like how it ends. It was my intention to come full circle, but again, discussion with the beta readers showed that some more of the loose ends should have been tied up at the time. I’m actually considering writing an epilogue for it. It can go in as a new edition for the ebook (owners will be notified by their purchase site), and maybe do a note to slip in the paperbacks that an epilogue is available on the Princelings website.
The moral of the story… trust your beta readers.
And having finished the series, I suddenly wanted to see how the earlier books stood up…
The Traveler in Black and White (#4)
It was quite hard shifting my mindset back to a prequel, having just finished the series! It took me a while to adapt to Hugo’s style and it felt old-fashioned, but as time went on I got really into it. In fact I read past midnight, which is highly unusual for me! The vampires work just fine, despite my concerns that they are a bit out of fashion.
Should people start with this book? Apart from not knowing who Fred and George are when you finally meet them in book 6… I think it stands on its own okay.
The Talent Seekers (#5)
I’m always a little shy of promoting this book. It seems ‘different’ to me, and the main reason is because it features characters who don’t appear again (apart from in Willoughby’s book, and in some of Fred’s references later). And it features vampires and werewolves roaming the Realms, which I decided didn’t belong overall, and there’s a lot of fighting.
But you know, I loved it! It’s got great action sequences, it’s got a touch of magic, plus intrigue and devilry, and Humphrey is just a darling, as always.
I think it belongs in its place as part of the series, and a very valid part (especially as Willoughby has to investigate the place again in book 7). I must promote it more. Especially as it is now the one with ‘local’ settings!
Bravo Victor (#6)
Given how much trouble I had writing this book, I’m surprised how good it is. Maybe that’s why it’s good, because I really struggled over making the whole thing hang together. Victor is narrating, and he is such a wonderful unreliable narrator! But he’s honest and brave, and although he gets completely confused at times, he comes through as always. I would never suggest anyone jumps in to this book as a starter. [why not, I ask myself?] Although I did do a plot summary at the start showing things relevant to the story that turn up in other books. It’s necessary, because time travel is involved again. And it’s so easy to get confused when you are meeting people you last met in their future and your past.
I have a sneaking suspicion it’s my new favourite. I couldn’t put it down, anyway.
What about the illustrations?
I was thrilled with most of the illustrations. When you haven’t seen a picture for a while it’s strange to come across it as you turn the page. Some of the ones in the first book are really not good enough, but I’m really delighted with the standard of the later chapter illustrations in these books.
So, Is it Finished?
Yes. At the last Gift Fair I made a note of a possible ‘Further Adventures of Willoughby’ but I’m not sure I want to go there. An epilogue showing how he got around the problem of getting back to Hattan twelve years older will suffice. There is a short story I did one Christmas that suggests everything that needs to happen has happened. It might draw the Epilogue to a close. But I don’t want to carry on with Willoughby’s adventures in Hattan. It would be a bit too much like Fantastic Beasts. Sometimes large series are best stopped where they ended the first time around.
Don’t you think?
PS Thinking of one of my regulars who is reading it to her boys, I think I ought to say that the books from 4 onwards are a bit more YA. 10 and up yes. 8 and up?…Only in places.