Title: Harriet the Invincible (Hamster Princess #1)
Author: Ursula Vernon
Publisher: Dial Books
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: Purchased a copy from Indigo
Now, I know what you’re thinking: hamster princess? Huh?
It may help if you realize that despite the incongruous series name, you, dear reader, are in the capable hands of Ursula Vernon. You know, the person who wrote the Hugo-award-winning webcomic Digger, about a talking wombat, the god Ganesh, oracular slugs, vampire squash, and a long-foretold prophecy coming due. That Ursula Vernon. (Here’s a full review of Digger from a few years ago if you’re so inclined.)
Here, Vernon takes her considerable sense of humour and lovely line art and puts it in service of a funky, kid-friendly retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
Harriet Hamsterbone is pragmatic, adventure-seeking, and strong — pretty much everything that a respectable princess shouldn’t be. But there is one thing princess-like about herself that she can’t avoid: she’s living under the curse of the evil witch Ratshade. You know the deal: not invited to the Christening, Ratshade shows up out of spite and curses her, only a prince’s kiss can break the spell, yadda yadda yadda.
When Harriet learns at age 10 the truth about the curse, she’s delighted. She’s doomed to prick her paw on a hamster wheel on her 12th birthday, but that’s two whole years away. Which means that for the next two years, she’s effectively invincible — what good would such a curse be if anything else could finish her off in the meantime?
So she takes off to the countryside with her trusty steed Mumfrey the quail, fights all sorts of ogres and trolls, and makes friends with the local hag. However, if Ratshade thinks that Harriet the Invincible will submit quietly to the curse on her 12th birthday, Ratshade has another think coming.
I bought this book because I was attending a book tour stop for Big Mushy Happy Lump, the new comic collection by Sarah C. Andersen. I was waiting in the nearby kids’ books section for the author to sign my book, and needed something to pass the time. Harriet the Invincible sat on a nearby shelf and caught my eye. By the time I was at the front of the line for the autograph, I was only about 20 pages away from the end — it’s that quick and breezy a read. When my husband pointed out that Chapters had a few other things on sale, I decided that it would be cruel to read so much of the book, not finish it, and not even pay for the fun I had.
This is an excellent choice for bedtime reading if you’ve got a kid and want to introduce them to the subgenre of stories that subvert fairy tale tropes. I can see Harriet the Invincible working particularly well for those in the range of 5-8 years — the text is engaging and Vernon’s drawings (which are there, but don’t dominate the text) are frequent enough to keep kids interested. (Please note that you should take my age suggestion with a huge grain of salt, since I don’t have any kids of my own.)
I don’t normally read kids’ books, but this one was fun, and I enjoy Vernon’s work in general so much that I couldn’t resist.