Review: Less Than Charming

Posted: May 2, 2016 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Rebecca A. Demarest, Fantasy

What if there were a world where fictional characters lived? What would that world look like? Would the science of our world work there? Would magic?

Sophie is the 12th princess from the fairytale “12 Dancing Princesses,” and as a result of her story being told for hundreds of years, her sense of character is pretty strong. Do you remember her? The curious one who was suspicious of someone sneaking behind her and her sisters? Imagine how many times her story has been told and re-told in its various forms and how it affects her personality and sense of self. Where would a girl like that work?

A newspaper, of course, because a girl that curious is bound to want to be an investigative journalist.

LESS THAN CHARMING is Rebecca A. Demarest’s most recent novel, and takes place in a world there every character ever created lives. Yes, Edward Cullen, Gandalf, and Pinkie Pie all exist in the same world. And interact. Oh imagine the possibilities.

The Charmings are throwing an anniversary party of the founding of the Central hearth (the symbolic source around which stories are told), and Sophie is intent on finding hidden scandal. But when she arrives to Central City, she’s approached by the Storyteller, Himself, and sent on a quest to discover why Prince Charming is changing history.

Sophie runs into her former flame, none other than Jack the Giantkiller, with whom she spent partying during their wild youth. She’s been avoiding him ever since, but Jack has done some maturing on his own and decides to help Sophie in her quest. And it’s a good thing, too, because if Prince Charming catches wind of her snooping, there’s bound to be trouble. Fortunately Jack is handy with an axe.

Told from Sophie’s PoV, LESS THAN CHARMING is narrated with a fun voice and clean writing. Demarest adds great details, including some hilarious pop culture references. Sometimes she gets a little infodumpy because there’s so much to explain about this world of fictional characters. And I’m not talking Once Upon A Time (although they do reference the show), but a much fuller world with characters from every story, every book, everywhere…even NaNoWriMo. Yeah, I know.

Sure it’s a world built on cliché, but Demarest uses it to her own advantage. She turns well-known fairytales upside-down. You see, over time re-tellings change characters; but what happens when a character “edits” other characters’ re-tellings? What about fandoms? But the most important question that involves Prince Charming is: how do the original stories build everything that comes after?

It’s that very fascinating question that drives Sophie on her quest to understand how her world was founded, and what fuels it: imagination. The world does work on scientific principle, and what works in our world works in theirs, which means magic does not work. But imagination is what created Sophie’s world in the first place, as well as the characters, and it’s what makes the world around her malleable, if she can only learn to use it.

What if there were a world where fictional characters lived? What would that world look like? Would the science of our world work there? Would magic?

A quarter of the way into the novel the tone of the story changes from a silly re-imagining to a serious problem: Prince Charming is much more than the we realize. The plot is pretty straightforward, but the pacing gets clunky in the middle during the obligatory “hero must learn new skills” phase. I was also frustrated than an experienced investigative journalist would take (sometimes vague) word of convicts (even if unjustly incarcerated) and some suspiciously stolen information as hardcore evidence. Especially considering the gross charges.

LESS THAN CHARMING ends sufficiently cleverly, and when we understand more the whys of character behavior, then the story begins to make more sense–but that isn’t until almost the end. Still, Demarest has created a fun fractured fairytale in a world I wasn’t expecting.

  • Recommended Age: 16+, at first it seems fluffy, but charges of pedophilia do darken the tone
  • Language: A couple handfuls
  • Violence: A couple of instances but nothing really bloody; some deaths but this is a world where characters only die when they're forgotten
  • Sex: Referenced

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