The Princess and the Bear, by Mette Ivie Harrison (HarperCollins, 2009, YA, 327 pp) picks up exactly where The Princess and the Hound left off. Prince George and Princess Merit are happily married, and the hound who had once been a princess and the bear who had once been a king have found each other in the forest, and are slowly forming a bond of great affection and mutual need. But all is not well--the forest they love is under threat from a horrible Unmagic, that drains the life and goodness out of whatever it touches.
The Wild Man, who had lead the animals against the Bear when he had been a foolish and selfish young king, is the only being powerful enough to stand against this evil force, so Hound and Bear set off to seek him. When they do, they find that their path will take them back in time--the Bear can become the King again, and the Hound can become a human woman, fighting at his side.
Together they must understand their own magic, and the magic of the land in which they live. Without the magic, they cannot stand against the Unmagic force, and defend the kingdom from the human greed and hunger for power that is tearing it apart. And in the processes, they must also learn to understand each other...
The Princess and the Bear does not have the strongest beginning. George and Merit are pushed abruptly and drastically off stage in order to get the plot going, and that jarred a bit. It seemed to me to take Harrison a while to demonstrate that she was in writerly control of her two animal/human characters, and there was quite a bit of telling what they were feeling that didn't quite fit smoothly into the story. However, as the story progress, frequent flashbacks to the previous lives of the main characters work well to add depth to characters and to explain how they (especially the Bear) ended up where they are.
When this unlikely couple travels back in time, setting forth as human companions to reclaim the kingdom, the story gets cracking nicely, and becomes an exciting, page-turning, magic-filled adventure. Chela, as the hound now calls herself (it's houndish for woman), is a particularly fascinating character, and Harrison does an excellent job making her dual nature present and convincing. She is a pretty darn fierce and loyal fighter, a worthy addition to the gallery of kick-ass heroines.
This is one that will be much enjoyed by animal loving readers--not only are the two main characters animals themselves for much of the book, but the magic of this land intricately binds humans with the animal kingdom. Although it's YA, there is nothing blush worthy or terribly disturbing violence-wise, so it's suitable for voraciously reading middle-school kids (that is, girls. It is a rather lovely dress on the cover, isn't it? But since half the story is told from the male lead's point of view, and there's lots of swordfighting and hunting, boys might like it too...)
What I am now wondering is what effect the actions of these two in the past will have had on George and Merit's time. Perhaps there will be a third book...
There is a third book! I just visited Harrison's webpage to get the link, and found:
"The Princess and the Snowbird , the sequel to The Princess and the Bear will be available in 2010. It is the story of Liva, the daughter of the hound and the bear, and Jens, an ordinary boy with no magic at all who does extraordinary things, and of course, a mythical creature called a snowbird who returns to help save magic at the end of the world."
I'm looking forward to it!
Other reviews can be found at Books Your Mother Would Approve Of, and One Librarian's Book Reviews.