So today, in a slight deviation from the normal routine, I'll be reviewing a short story—Princess for Hire by Jamie Grey. I “met” Jamie recently through Lydia Sharp's contest and enjoyed reading her blog and chatting with her on twitter. When she asked for people to review her upcoming story I was happy to offer.
Here's the blurb for the story:
After winning his kingdom in a legendary poker game twenty years ago, Princess Mina’s father loses the kingdom just as easily. Now alone and penniless, Mina must rely on her sword to support them both. When the princess-turned-mercenary is offered a contract to save a prince that will pay enough to keep her father in luxury for yet another year, she and her business partner snap up the deal. Dragons and all.
Jamie sent Princess for Hire to me a few days ago. I had a good time reading it (and realized how long it's been since I read something that truly qualifies as a “short” story). Here are my thoughts.
The thing that struck me first about the story was its voice. A lot of people talk about the importance of voice, but until you see it, it's not always easy to know what you're looking for. Jamie did an excellent job with the voice from the first sentence and immediately drew me in. This was one of the strongest aspects of the story, and I think that bodes well for Jamie's writing career in general.
The opening scene is a lot of fun. We immediately get a sense of the main character Mina and her father, the deposed king who bleeds money. The tone of the story is lighthearted, and I think that's what really kept me wanting to read. The dynamic between Mina and her father is familiar and well-developed even in a few paragraphs, and their plight is a humorous twist on a typical fantasy set-up.
I love that this story knows what it is and doesn't try to be something it isn't. The tone remains consistent throughout. While the ending is unexpected, it's also exactly what the story promises us in the beginning. But more on the ending in a bit.
Jamie's writing was smooth throughout the course of the story. Aside from a few overly-used words in places, the writing didn't get in the way. And the pacing was really well done. Pacing can often be a big issue for some writers, and in a short story pacing problems tend to become even more evident. But Princess for Hire had a great arc and never felt too rushed or too drawn out.
The story kept my focus from beginning to end. It built tension in increments and then delivered at all the right moments. By the end I wasn't left wishing for any further resolution.
As I said above, the climax of the story has a surprise twist. But my favorite part of the story was the very end when Mina and one of the other characters come up with an amusing solution to their mutual problems. I thought Jamie handled that scene very well, and it left me with a smile on my face.
The one thing I did wish was for more recognizable characterization of the secondary characters. A story this short leaves little room to delve into personality traits, but Jamie did such a good job in such a short time in the opening scene that I was expecting the later characters to be equally vibrant. The difficulty is that characters in short stories often have to be pretty one-dimensional in order to have a personality that a reader can latch onto and connect with. I suspect that in trying to make the secondary characters more complex, that immediate recognition was lost.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story. It was a quick, entertaining read. Great work, Jamie, and congratulations! I look forward to seeing what else you write. Best of luck!