Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fortitude Triumphs: Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdoch

Trudy began weeping even before she awoke the next morning. "What is it?" Tips whispered.

Trudy pulled away. "I don't want to be your family. I want to be your wife!"

Gently, Tips shook his head. "We haven't talked in six years. This is my life here---"

Wisdom opened her eyes. "Where are we?"

"It doesn't matter," Trudy said bitterly. Tip, overcome, stared at the floor.

"Doesn't matter?" said Wisdom. "It's the future of Montagne. It's my future, my sister's, it's...."

Trudy glared at her. "It's my future, too! My future is over. You stole my future."

Wisdom recoiled. "How dare you!"

"How dare I? What's that, princess talk? You can have anything you want, in the whole world. Why did you have to take him?"

"I didn't "take" him. I love him."

Happiness is many things. In Catherine Gilbert Murdoch's forthcoming Wisdom's Kiss (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), the human quest for happiness is played out from the multiple perspectives of its characters--Queen Mother Benevolence (nee Princess Ben), her spinsterish older daughter Temperance, her ditsy and adventurous younger daughter Wisdom (Dizzy), childhood sweethearts Tips the miller's son and Trudy (Fortitude), an orphaned kitchen wench of dubious lineage, the avaricious Queen Wilhelmina of Farina, her effete son Roger, dispatched to woo Temperance but enamored of Wisdom, and Felis El Gato, the showman who apprentices Tips for his agility and takes him away from Trudy and off to the court of Wilhelmina of Farina.

It all begins when Queen Wilhelmina sends her dim son Roger to woo Temperance in order to acquire the riches of Montagne for her kingdom, but when he chooses instead the anti-princess Dizzy, the unwieldy plot swings into motion, sweeping up the beauteous (and strangely clairvoyant) Trudy as a substitute lady-in-waiting along the way. Wisdom and Tips fall into a star-crossed love; Queen Wilhemina is unable to conceal her evil intentions; and Queen Benevolence (nee Princess Ben), reviving her renounced wizardly skills, takes a page from Juliet's faux suicide scene to confound the dastardly Wilhelmina's imperial lust and unite the true lovers, to the vast dismay of the thus lovelorn Roger and Trudy. Then, with a Deus ex machina resolution involving a magically-driven hot air balloon escape, Trudy's clairvoyance, and assorted transformations, including that of a doppelganger cat, it all concludes with a happy-ever-after for all...and, incidentally, the historical genesis of several of Europe's best-known fairy tales.

Just your average teenage love triangle novel--with appended glossary and author's notes, that is.

Told not in straight-forward narration, but in eight parallel literary sources--encyclopedia entries, bombastic memoirs, journal postings, various epistles and missives, and a sixteenth-century drama--the story almost founders under the weight of its clever complexity, saved by an enticing pair of romances, a cut-throat royal rivalry, and curiously talented black cat. If the plot sometimes struggles to move forward under the weight of its several narrative threads, it becomes apparent that it is through their different takes on the same events that the diverse characters are developed in what is ultimately revealed as a supremely character-driven plot.

Sometimes confusing, occasionally tedious, and ultimately delightfully satisfying, this novel is not one for the reader seeking a light, quick read. Murdoch, author of the poignant and hilarious Dairy Queen trilogy and this novel's prequel, Princess Ben, nevertheless emerges as the real magician behind this literary legerdemain. "An ebullient fairy tale," as Kirkus Reviews has it, this novel joins Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted and Fairest in the pantheon of the popular young adult genre of plucky-princess fractured fairy tales.

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