The band of eccentric Prince Charmings, and the princess with whom their lives are entwined, introduced by Christopher Healy in The Hero's Guide To Saving Your Kingdom, are back for more twisted fairy-tale mayhem in The Hero's Guide to Storming The Castle (Walden Pond Press, April 2013).
Princes Liam, Frederick, Duncan and Gustav had hoped that their previous exploits, in which they did, in fact, foil a serious threat to their kingdoms, would finally have given them fame and respect...but it was not to be. Instead, they get derision. But all is not lost--a new great adventure awaits! The twisted ambition of Briar Rose, spoiled rotten and power mad, has united them, along with Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Briar Rose, on a quest to storm the
castle of the nasty kid turned Bandit King they met in book 1, and recover a lost artifact of incredible magical power (the sort of thing you wouldn't want a boy Bandit King to know he has. Also the sort of thing you wouldn't actually want Briar Rose getting a hold of...).
The adventures that ensue are packed with all sorts of absurdity (and slapstick humor and adventurous bizarrity and clowns). Mischances and incredible good luck vie for supremacy, and each of the characters must use his or her eccentric talents, and play nicely with the others, in order for them to have any chance of success against more, and worse, villains than they thought they would have to face.
Within all the vast canvas of high jinks and daring do, the central characters manage to be interesting people, more so here, I thought, than in the first book. They did, in fact, learn things from those adventures that changed them and made them more thoughtful and introspective. And at this point they are busily exploring their relationships with each other--Snow and Duncan are already nicely paired off, but will the other three predestined couples be happy in their matches? For Liam, this is a particular problem--Briar Rose, his fated bride, is not lovable. Fortunatly, the intricacies of castle storming gives her the chance she needs to Grow as a Person (hard to believe, but a good thing). And as well as the Love aspects of life, our heros and heroines have to continue to work on trusting and respecting each other. So definitely points for characterization.
It's lots of fun; good for the young reader who likes his or her fantasy zany, who got a kick out of the plethora of slapsticky humor in books for the elementary set, who is now ready to move on. This, I think, is one where response to the cover will be a good indication of whether a particular kid will like the book. I wasn't able to get my own Sample of Target Audience to try these (he is a big fan of the Ranger's Apprentice series, and takes his epic fantasy rather seriously), but I think there are many kids who will find both the Hero books very appealing indeed.
Here's another review, at The Book Smugglers
disclaimer: my copy of this was received courtesy of the publisher, via Ms. Yingling Reads (thanks!), as a prize in the 48 Hour Reading Challenge