Hamster Princess: Whiskerella written and illustrated by Ursula Vernon
Two years ago, I reviewed (and adored) Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible, the first book in the Hamster Princess series by the fantastic Ursula Vernon. Vernon is the author of the hugely popular graphic novel/chapter book hybrid Dragonbreath series, which is (paused?) on book eleven.
The premise for Hamster Princess is brilliant, with Vernon taking familiar fairy tales and dropping the fierce and fearless Princess Harriet Hamsterbone into the middle of them. This brief book trailer is a great introduction to this unforgettable character.
Whiskerella, Book 5 in the Hamster Princess series, finds Harriet once again facing the threat of a royal marriage. This time, her mother has found a way to arrange a fancy costume ball, shooting down Harriet's wish to go as "Genghis Prawn, Unstoppable Leader of the Lobster Horde." The Queen knows that Harriet has a reputation for being, "alarming to innocent bystanders," so putting a fancy dress and a mask on her is a great way for princes to get to know her without her reputation preceding her, despite the fact that she cordially despises, (her mother insists on the "cordial" part) all the princes of the realm because they refused to help her four books ago when her kingdom was trapped under a spell of sleep. Actually, Harriet would prefer to detest the princes "actively, possibly with screaming, but since their parents ruled neighboring kingdoms, this was not considered diplomatic.
However, when a beautiful, mysterious stranger wearing glass slippers arrives at the ball, all thoughts of actively despising the princes fall away. Harriet must know who this stranger is! (Asking her to dance, Harriet learns that the beautiful princess's name is Ella.) Curious interactions with the quails pulling her carriage and the quiet mouse driving it lead Harriet, her prince buddy Wilbur in tow, to devise a plan. Once again, a misguided fairy is at the heart of the problem. Thinking she is releasing her from the tyranny of a wicked step-mother and sister (her mother is an architect who builds hospitals for sick baby mice and her sister is as "wicked as a cinnamon roll") the fairy puts a spell on Ella, who will have to attend balls until she is swept off her feet by a prince.
Harriet is determined to help Ella free herself from the unwanted "happy ending," and chaos and laughter ensues. As always, Vernon's storytelling is slyly hilarious. An elderly, incontinent pet lizard (named Stinky) is turned into a quail by the fairy godmother but runs off, leaving puddles across the castle as the story unfolds. There is a shy stable mouse named Ralph who can only mumble about "Wobbly Quail disease." And there the bat ambassador, the whole reason for the costume balls in the first place, who turns out to be a wise, compassionate soul and quick on his feet when caught in the grip of a fairy's logic. Vernon wraps up Whiskerella with a very sweet moment between Harriet and her Dad.
Ursula's Self-Portrait, with friends
Source: Review Copy