Illustrations by Todd Harris
Hardcover, 419 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Walden Pond Press
Age Recommendation: Middle Grade
Note: I listened to the audiobook version of this book, so the spelling of all names are my best guess, and not necessarily the same spelling as found in the text.
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom was so much fun, and the narration on the audiobook made it even more so. I loved the narrator, and the voices he used were perfect. Even though I thought a few of them were a little silly at the beginning, now I can't imagine them any other way. During the day, when I wasn't listening to the book, I often found myself randomly thinking in Gustav's voice, or Duncan's.
The story seems silly and fun - which it totally is - but there are also so many parts that are so clever. So many of the minor happenings at the beginning come back in the middle and at the end as important parts. For instance, in chapter 2 (or maybe 3), Gustav fights a troll. This encounter is very funny on its own, but it gets even better when Gustav and Fredric run into the troll again later in the story.
The only thing I wish I could have added to the audiobook was the wonderful illustrations. I looked up many of the illustrations after I finished listening to the book, and they work perfectly with the story. I will likely borrow a copy of The Hero's Guide from the library so I can flip through for the pictures, but I may end up rereading the whole thing, since I liked it so much.
I love these characters. They are all so much fun. I will try to explain them, but its hard to get the full effect before you've heard Duncan shouting, "Woohoo! Wild card!"
The story begins with Fredric. Fredric is Cinderella's prince, and he has spent his entire life learning to be a perfect prince. His manners are impeccable, and his dancing is flawless. But since his childhood, he has been afraid to do anything remotely dangerous. Ella, on the other hand, is wild and adventurous, and after spending so long under the thumb of her stepmother, is ready to see the world and go on daring adventures. Fredric, of course, is happy with the adventure of a garden picnic, and when he refuses to join Ella's proposed escapades, she runs away, and Fredric sums up the courage to go look for her. So begins the many misadventures of the League of Princes (as they later name themselves).
All four princes go through considerable character growth, but Fredric's is the most noticeable. The reader is rooting for him the whole time, and it's wonderful to see him discover his strength and courage. He eventually manages feats that he never would have dreamed of originally, when his favorite book series, "Sir Bertram the Dainty" was able to scare him. In the beginning of the story, I loved Fredric because he was so sweet and helpless, and in the end I loved him because he had transformed so completely.
Next, we meet Gustav. Gustav is a great character. He is the youngest of 17 sons, and his sixteen brothers were born as two sets of octuplets. He's got a bit of an inferiority complex, and likes to rush in and attack, usually yelling "Sturmhagen!" as he does so. I love Gustav too - I love all the characters, really. They're all so great in their own way. Gustav is so rough and tough, and he's got such a prickly exterior, but throughout the story you can see his softer side too. To use a quote from one of my favorite movies, "You're all hard on the outside, but you're all soft and gooey on the inside." I love that his great heroic act was NOT waking up the dragon, and sitting down to watch it instead. So great. Of the four, Gustav also had the most memorable accent, even though all of them were fantastic and very different. When I think of the different character voices, Gustav's is usually the first to come to mind.
Liam is the heroic hero of the group. Liam has been a hero for years before the story begins, and he's also the person who comes up with the plans when everything else is falling apart. If I was ever trapped by Zaubeera, I would want Liam to rescue me. He wouldn't get distracted like Duncan or have trouble getting past my guards like Fredric. Liam is the guy who gets things done. But, of course, he also has his own growth to go through, and quite a few problems of his own as well. For one thing, Sleeping Beauty, the princess whom he rescued, turns out to be quite a brat. She's actually very nasty, and is furious when he refuses to marry her. In retaliation, she goes about telling everyone in her kingdom what a horrible person Liam is. It's lots of fun hearing how the stories get more and more wild as their adventure continues.
And now, the final prince: Duncan. Duncan is kind of ridiculous (but let's face it, all the princes are a bit ridiculous), but he is a great character. Duncan thinks he has this magical luck, which, as the narrator is quick to tell the reader, he does not. But because of this, he is quite fearless and gets into crazy situations. He also has a talent for saying exactly the wrong thing, which tends to get him into trouble. Whereas the other princes dependably stick to their main character traits, Duncan's most likely course of action is the opposite of what you would expect him to do.
All of the other characters were just as great. Lila, Liam's sister, was one of my favorite characters, and I identified most with her. Zaubeera was also lots of fun to read about (or listen about in my case). Every character was fun and unique, and each added something to the story. Even Troll, the troll, became important in the end. Some other character highlights were Deeb Robber, the bandit king; all four princesses; the giant; and the bounty hunter.
The book is chock full of wit and humor, and had me laughing out loud repeatedly (often in public, while wearing headphones. I got some odd stares). Every character gets his share of clever lines, and I was having so much fun listening, at some points I didn't even care much where the story was going, as long as I could listen to these characters some more.
Also, I especially looked forward the the beginnings of chapters. As I almost never even notice when I start a new chapter, this is very unusual, and quite an achievement for this book. Every chapter began with a clever title, and I loved all of them, such as "Prince Charming claims he is not afraid of old ladies" to "Prince Charming really needs to figure out what is going on."
It's quite obvious at this point that I loved this book. I plan to listen to it all over again in August, if not sooner. [EDIT: Couldn't wait until August. I started it again yesterday.] The narration is wonderful, the story is fantastic, the characters are great - I have absolutely no complaints. A wonderful MG for both boys and girls, and certainly a book I recommend to readers of all ages.
|A bonus picture - the full cover image, courtesy of A Backwards Story. Click to enlarge.|