Sophie Smith has never been special or interesting. She is the poor girl at her elite private school complete with her shabby clothes, unbrushed hair and callous guardian.
Sophie thinks things might have gone differently if she wasn’t an orphan. But she is. Trapped in her grey English boarding school. Trapped in her grey boring life even as dreams of winter in Russia, majestic wolves and a strange forest haunt her.
Nothing interesting ever happens to Sophie. She wouldn’t expect anything different.
Then a stranger comes to the school and invites Sophie and her roommates–glamorous Delphine and bookish Marianne–on a school trip to St. Petersburg.
The following adventure is even more than Sophie could hope for as they girls are abandoned in a blizzard and whisked away to a wintry palace to rival Sophie’s grandest dreams in The Wolf Princess (2012) by Cathryn Constable.
I went into this book with high expectations and only a vague sense of what to expect beyond a rags to riches fairy tale story.
In a way that is exactly what The Wolf Princess delivers. But in other ways it was a disappointment.
Sophie is fascinated with Russia in a way that should be endearing and draw readers in as well. Instead it comes off as vaguely condescending as she describes Russian words knocking into each other and, at one point, describes a Russian character’s handwriting as distinctly foreign.
All of the characters in the story feel like caricatures complete with an icy winter princess, a sturdy Russian officer and, of course, one friend who is defined solely as being glamorous and half-French (no, really) and another who is interesting only in that she is intelligent (I don’t even remember if we were ever told her hair color).
Beyond that Sophie is infuriating. She is a mousey heroine with absolutely know self-confidence. Instead of blossoming or coming into her own as the story progresses Sophie continues to doubt herself and remind readers and her friends that she is decidedly not special. Worse, her friends are quick to agree.
The book is also oddly out of time. Reference to cell phones suggest the book is set in the present although the atmosphere and attitudes of the characters seem to suggest an earlier time period. The characters are similarly ageless. The Wolf Princess is marketed for ages 10-14 meaning, because the ages are never implicitly stated, there is a huge spread for how old the characters can be. Taken as a middle grade novel Sophie’s behavior might make more sense but I doubt it would make her more tolerable.
This story is likely to appeal to anyone who has enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha books or wants a riff on the tropes found in A Little Princess. However readers should be wary of the flaws in certain aspects of The Wolf Princess.
Possible Pairings: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*