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Jim C. Hines's Princess series is just thoroughly enjoyable light fantasy. Not brilliant or radically inventive, but it's perfect comfort listening. The third book in the series gets a little bit further away from the "Disney Princess" tropes and more into Hines's own world, even if it is a very recognizable medieval fantasy world with all the usual genre staples. But he does a lot more with the different kinds of fairies, and this time Danielle (aka Cinderella), Snow (White), and Talia (aka Sleeping Beauty) go to Talia's homeland of Arathea, which is a vaguely Thousand-and-One-Knights-ish sort of place.
This time, the antagonist is Little Red Riding Hood. Or as she's better known, the Lady of the Red Hood, the most feared assassin in the world. As with previous installments, Hines reinvents and inverts the old fairy tales while making the "real" story plausibly something that could have given rise to the fairy tale version. Of course it's always the darker fairy tale versions he's working with. Here, Roudette is a shapechanging assassin whose goal is vengeance, and as in previous books, the true Big Bad is not revealed until after our heroines have worked their way through several red herrings.
This is really Talia's book. The plot is mostly about Talia and her homeland. We meet characters only vaguely referenced in previous books, and of course since Talia is a superhuman warrior with fairy gifts and Roudette is a superhuman warrior with a magical cape, we know there will be epic smackdown chickfights. There is also romance, political intrigue, and some very touching moments in the final chapters.
There are character arcs working their way through this series, such as the ongoing tension between Talia, who is in love with Snow, and Snow, who loves Talia as a friend but isn't quite sure what to do about her attraction. So far Hines is handling the lesbian characters in a nuanced and realistic way, neither making it a Great Big Issue overshadowing all character interactions nor reducing it to a quirky "diversity" checkbox.
It's a good listen if you like fantasy that's right on the mid-line between light & comic and dark & serious, with that ever-elusive set of "strong female protagonists" handling problems politically, socially, romantically, and with the occasional judicious decapitation with a magic sword.
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