Fantasy author Jim Hines's new novel, The Stepsister Scheme, was born back in 2004, when his daughter was 4 years old and his home had been invaded by princesses—that is, movies, toys and tchotchkes themed to princesses.
"We're talking Tribble-level infestation here," Hines said in an interview. "Some of the princess movies aren't bad, but the merchandise made me cringe. Dolls and pajamas and bedsheets and tissue boxes with cartoon princesses, drawn in poses I can only describe as 'simpering.' ... I wanted to offer an alternative, a trio of princesses who could get out there and kick butt with the best of the men. Basically, the book is a cross between the old (pre-Disney) fairy tales and Charlie's Angels. I just hope my daughter enjoys it in another few years, when she's old enough to actually read the thing."
In the book, several months after Danielle (Cinderella) marries her prince, one of her stepsisters tries to kill her. A servant girl named Talia saves her life, but the stepsister escapes.
"Talia is more than she appears, of course, and Danielle soon finds herself introduced to Sleeping Beauty and her friend Snow White, both of whom work for the queen," Hines said. "They learn that the stepsisters have kidnapped Danielle's prince, and now the three princesses must face cranky trolls, witches and darker creatures of fairy lore as they work to unravel the stepsisters' plot and save the prince."
There are many contemporary retellings of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, so one of the biggest challenges Hines faced was finding a way to take the old fairy tales and make them his own. "I knew that I didn't want to avoid the darker aspects of the old fairy tales, but I also wanted to keep the book fun," he said. "Discovering the voice of each character—transforming them from fairy-tale archetypes into genuine, believable people—was the key to making the book work."
In the old fairy tales, some of the things the women characters went through are pretty horrific. Finding the right way to acknowledge that past violence and abuse meant Hines had to tap into his own experience dealing with abuse survivors. "I spent several years working as a rape counselor and educator and several more doing outreach for a domestic violence shelter, so many of these stories are uncomfortably familiar," he said.
Book two in the series, The Mermaid's Madness, is due out in October, with book three, Red Hood's Revenge, to follow in 2010.