Also appears on The Screaming Nitpicker.I was excited to read this collection of four short stories from Robin McKinley because I've heard so many good things about her and one of her novels is on my must-read list, but this book was ultimately underwhelming. The Stolen Princess In the last mortal kingdom bordering the lands of the faeries, children are stolen from the people on a regular basis. Baby boys and of-age girls are stolen away from their families and no one is safe- not even the royal family. First, the Princess Ellian was stolen at seventeen and her twin sister Alora barely recovered from that. Then Alora gave birth to her solitary heir Princess Linadel and on Linadel's seventeenth birthday, she too was stolen away by the faeries. This story was 77 or so pages long and I didn't like it very much. It dragged on for too long and even for a fairy tale, the love-at-first-sight of Princess Linadel and Donathor wasn't very convincing. In the end, everything tied up in a pretty little bow so that the two could be together without one of them having to give up their own kingdom. I know it's a fairy tale, but this happy ending was just a teaspoon too sweet for my tastes. For one reason or another, the royal family seems to be having psychic dreams all over the place. Fantasy excuses that too, but it's still a little strange because there's no attempt at an explanation. The Princess and the Frog When Princess Rana receives a necklace from Prince Aliyander, she accidentally drops it in a special body of water near her palace and the malevolent magic that charmed it disappears. Knowing that she cannot return without the necklace, Rana enlists the help of a talking frog sitting by the lake. In return, the frog asks to live in the castle and because she knows that she must grant his request for helping her, she agrees. This was a slightly darker retelling of the tale of the same title which most of us are familiar with, but instead of it being about a spoiled princess getting her ball back and learning a little bit of humility along the way, it's about a princess and a frog defeating an evil, magical prince. The loss of the great moral affects the story and while it's still enjoyable, it's not quite the same. At the end, Rana has the time to run all the way outside and get a "flagon" (whatever that is; I'm sorry, but I'm not quite educated enough to know that word) of water from the pond she dropped her necklace in, and pour it over Aliyander, which kills him. It's a stretch enough that she knew the pond water would defeat him, but the they hadn't moved at all when Rana got back. There's no way they would have paused to wait for her while she got the key to killing Aliyander. The Haunting of the Hind There is a horse running through the lands known as thee Golden Kind, one that is so beautiful that men will chase after it and if the come home, they are scarred and have lost their minds. When Princess Korah's beloved brother follows the Hind, he is one of the lucky ones and comes back with both his mind and his sanity, but he is slowly wasting away and dying. Willing to do anything to help the brother who has loved her unconditionally when so many people loved her half-heartedly, Korah sets out to find the Hind and save her brother's life. I preferred this original story over "the Stolen Princess." It was shorter at about thirty pages or so, which meant it was more concise and concentrated on the present time instead of the history of the world. The beginningof it was good, but lost steam at the end. Princess Korah has to leave behind all of her feelings, face down the wizard that traps the hind- a horse who was originally a woman- and ask him to release the hind and her brother. Really? No tricks beyond that? You'd think a wizard would put up more of a fight than that, but he doesn't. The hind's brother- so unmemorable that I already forgot his name- got paired up with Korah at the last second. That was his entire purpose for existing, it seemed. Why did Korah have to be paired with a guy? Couldn't she have stayed single? That would have been a nice divergence from the previous two stories, where the princesses both got guys. It's okay to have some variety- really. The Twelve Dancing Princesses A middle-aged soldier, weary from fighting for his kingdom for twenty years, hears of a plea from the king: discover where the twelve princesses of the kingdom are going every night to dance, for the are bewitched and the only thing that can save them from the spell is for a man not of the princess' family to follow them to where they go and tell the King after the sun rises. He takes it and with the help of an invisible cloak given to him by an old woman he helped, he just might succeed. And here was some of the variety that I wanted. Instead of having to read the princess's point of view, we are in the point of the of the soldier, who is never given a name. What's wrong with naming him? Then again, no one has a proper name in this story, so I'll let that slide. This one follows closely to the original tale while still adding its own twist and once again, the added twist kind of messes things up. You remember the old woman that gives the soldier the invisible cloak, don't you? In the original story, she only gives him the cloak and warns him not to drink what the princesses give him. In this one, she informs the soldier of exactly what bewitched the princesses, why, and what he must do to save them. Isn't that strange? In the original story, one can assume she would put together her warnings after hearing others who have taken on the task talking once they failed. How does she know so much in this tale? Maybe I thought a little too much into these fairy tales, but they just didn't do it for me. The princesses all fell flat, the voice was long-winded in the worst possible way, and they weren't memorable at all to me.