Charming Academy by Jessica L. Elliot
Amazon Book Description:
Growing up is a difficult process for anyone, but for a boy destined to be the Prince Charming of a fairy tale it’s an absolute nightmare. Not only must Lucian learn the things normal boys are taught at school, he must also learn the particulars of quests at Charming Academy for Boys. It’s not going to be easy! There are sarcastic dragons, vindictive witches, and to top it all off Lucian’s princess hates him. Will he survive school to become the Prince Charming his parents believe him to be?
I first picked up this book in October of last year. Since then, I have read it four or five more times but it’s taken until now for me to sit and write a review instead of just continuing on with devouring the rest of the series. I originally thought this would be a children’s book that might or might not hold my attention. However, this book absolutely surprised me in the best of ways.
Plot – A-
Charming Academy is the first of a fairytales retold series. However, this book is not like most retellings. This is the story of how Prince Charming is prepared to save his princess. While it does not get to the actual retellings, the book retains the fairytale atmosphere. Lucian is the primary character and is destined to be Sleeping Beauty’s prince; however, we also meet the princesses and the other princes, each destined for his own fairytale. I loved the way the princes’ journeys are fleshed out. Charming Academy covers the six years of the princes’ training at Charming Academy (a bit like the Harry Potter format for Hogwarts) but there are also numerous side plots especially as the princes get older and the seeds of their individual stories are planted. The book is 500 pages long yet the plot carries itself well and rarely, if ever, feels as though it’s plodding. In fact, it was a jolt when I reached the end of the book and suddenly we’re back with the babysitter telling the story to the boy. I was so caught up in the story that I had forgotten it was technically a story within a story.
Content – A
In the course of expanding the realm of fairytales and creating realistic characters, Elliot includes many of the same things we face in the real world. There is violence and death, which is to be expected for princes training to fight dragons among other perils, but this primarily occurs off-screen so we mainly see the aftermath. One exception that stands out is when a particularly brutish prince strikes his princess. However, this incident is skillfully used to demonstrate how unacceptable that sort of behavior is and can provide a talking point for parents about how boys and girls should treat each other. There are also two death scenes that have reduced me to tears each time I read this book. They aren’t graphic but they are heartbreakingly poignant (and I still haven’t forgiven her for these deaths).
The kiss of true love is important to most fairytales and Elliot incorporates that wonderfully into her book. As the princes and princesses are paired with each other from the beginning, they are intended to grow as friends and then in love. It takes a while for the hormones to kick in but there are times when Lucian is highly tempted to do more than kiss Moira’s hand. However, the first kiss is so important to breaking enchantments that he resists the temptation. It’s cute watching Lucian and Moira in particular grow from definitely not liking each other (though for Lucian it’s a bit more of “she’s a girl” little boy mentality) to being very definitely in love. Moira is a challenging princess to say the least and part of Lucian’s appeal is that he is determined to be kind to her and to love her even when she tries to reject his love and the idea of loving him in return. Other than the hand-kissing and some kissing between already married adults, this is a squeaky clean story on the romance side.
Because this is a fairytale world, there are fairies and witches. The witches are interesting because they are used for discipline (believe me, these are teenagers who definitely earn their punishments) so spells are cast for punishment and once for a blessing. It fits into the fairytale setting and there is no mention of a spiritual connotation for the fairies or witches. I mentioned the teen factor because you do have characters being rude and even bullies, but there are always consequences. In a story about boys growing into men and being groomed to be worthy of the title ‘Prince Charming’, I appreciated the constant reminder that choices have consequences. Elliot skillfully made this clear in three different situations in particular, but I shan’t say more for fear of spoilers.
Technical – B+
Charming Academy is an extremely engaging read. As I mentioned before, the prologue and epilogue are set in modern times where a babysitter is telling the story to a little boy but the main story itself is so engaging that I completely forgot about this so the epilogue was a bit of a jolt. The flow rarely slows down. In fact, there were a few times where I wished we had a bit more detail and less of the sweeping summary regarding the later school years but it never detracts from the story mood.
However, there is quite a bit of head hopping in this story even though Lucian is the primary narrator. It can be a little distracting at times when we slip so quickly into different heads, but I found that this bothered me less during subsequent readings since I knew to expect it. It’s more of an omniscient third person POV storytelling style in this respect.
There is a smattering of typos throughout the book (perhaps five or six in the whole book), but it’s nothing that detracts from the story. The language is also pretty modern for a story set in the medieval setting of the fairytale world, but it doesn’t grate like one might expect. I was drawn into the story enough that the more modern language barely registered. The one technical aspect that truly bugged me in this book is the formatting of letters. The letters bounce from being the same size as the rest of the text to a huge font to being smaller than main text. There are enough letters present that I wished a single format was used across the board for them. Out of everything, it bothered me the most and what I would call a true distraction especially when it jumps to the huge font.
Final Grade – A- or 4.7 Stars
If you’re looking for a fairytale retelling that breaks the typical mold, this book is for you. This is the story of Prince Charming more than the princess. It is perfect for anyone who has ever wanted the more detailed plots that will turn Prince Charming into more than the guy on the white horse. This charming read is meant for ages 10-18 but is well-written and engaging to the point that I highly recommend it for adults too. I recommend this book for fans of clean fairytale retellings and for parents seeking fun books that they can read with their children.
Next Week – Finding Prince Charming (Charming Academy Book 2) by Jessica L. Elliot