The Robe of Skulls
Vivian French

Vivian French is currently best known among the little girls of La Crosse Public Library’s Children’s Room as the author of the incredibly popular Tiara Club series. These are short chapter books about a boarding school for princesses, with a dose of manners and friendship and mean girls tossed in. I recommend them to parents moving out of the Disney princess phase because, occasionally too insipid for words or not, good manners are a focus. Also, at the end of the day the friends are friends again…though one always hopes the more passive of the bad twins will shake off the more active of the pair and turn into a decent person.

Anyway, Tiara Club aside (apologies–I’ve read about a half dozen of those books), French’s new book came out recently and I was torn. The reviews were pretty positive–the cover I found a turn off. (Madame Director and I do not agree on the cover.) So it followed me home and landed in the wicker basket that houses library books at Chez Hedgehog (if they go anywhere else they get lost among my books).

The tale is a lightly romping fractured fairy tale. An “evil” but aging sorceress, who seems to mostly be permanently bad-tempered, desires a stunning new dress. But how will she pay for it? At the same time a young girl is trying to escape an evil step-father and step-sister and the younger of twin boy princes is trying to determine his own independence. It’s a toss up of “because a, then b” and “then x happened, which was good–well yes, but it’s also bad.” There’s a troll servant but he’s a pathetic comic creature that one pities and chuckles at rather than fears.

What I noticed the most was consistency of author’s voice. And to some degree that’s not a compliment. It was immediately apparent to me that I was reading the same writer behind the Tiara Club series and I’d hoped for something a little more mature. Other than the length and breaking out from the repetitive storyline, I’m not sure I got it. And while I can easily sell sparkly pink covers to our rising seven year olds, handing them a book with skulls on the cover general results in “ewwww, I don’t wanna read that…”

Overall it’s a light amusing read that I put on hold for Patron Age 9 who just came by and told me she’s reading magic books now (magic being chapter books with a light sprinkling of fairy godmothers and kittens that transform into princes). It was a little too cute for me, but may just appeal to the alternative princess readers.

Other Recommendations for the Growing Princesses:

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo