Sunday, December 29, 2019

PRINCESS CLAUS AND THE GREAT ESCAPE by J.L. Gillham



Rating: A snowglobe with a Christmas village inside of it

Highlight of note: Our lead is set to be the first female Santa!

Will you read more in this series? Hopefully. None have been published yet, but I am interested in what happens next.

Noelle, AKA Princess Claus, is the daughter of the current Santa. She lives at the North Pole with her family, lots of elves, some reindeer, and a pet polar bear. The tagline on the cover of the novel reads "Even Winter Wonderland can be a prison" but the story isn't nearly as dark as that makes it sound. Noelle does feel trapped. She's not allowed to leave the protective dome around her home because there's an evil elf out there who wants to kidnap her, and as she's a teenager this really chafes. But it's not like she's being tortured or anything.

Overall, the story is fun if not incredibly deep. I particularly liked seeing the growth in Noelle's relationship with her younger brother. They start off not liking each other at all, but find common ground and some degree of affection over the course of the novel.

My other favorite part was definitely the polar bear. He's timid and addicted to sugar. And he can fly when hooked up to Santa's sleigh. It almost goes without saying that I find the sleigh being pulled by polar bears to be a way cooler idea than having reindeer do it.

I never felt too invested in the romantic arc of the story. The love interest is likable, but he didn't seem very complicated and I was a bit put off by the fact that Noelle only appears to know two guys her age who aren't related to her and seems to feel they are the only romantic choices she has. The other guy we don't get to see until the end. There's some hint that the next book may have more of a love triangle conflict, but I think it's going to require this second fellow move to closer to Winter Wonderland.

I found it a bit hard to feel too sorry for Noelle, who clearly wanted me to feel sorry for her. Maybe I'm getting old, but I looked at her escape attempts and said stuff like, "You know you'll need money, right? Have you heard of ID?" and "You're just now asking where the nearest airport is? Seriously? Where did you think you were going running out into the countryside of Alaska?" Basically, I was hoping she'd fail to escape because I didn't want to watch her freeze to death or get eaten by a polar bear that hadn't been raised as a pet. And that was without taking the evil elf into consideration. All of this foolishness may be explained by her being young and very sheltered, but she felt more like a twelve-year-old than a seventeen-year-old to me.

As for the "I don't know that I want to be Santa" thing... I felt that was something that really should have been brought up in a conversation with her parents. She tries to talk to them exactly once. She says "Let's do this thing!" without explaining why she thinks it will help her, then storms out when they say "We can't do this thing!" without letting her parents fully explain their side. This is, I'll admit, somewhat accurate to how many teenagers behave. I would have liked to see more effort from her parents, though. They seem aware that something is up with her but never sit her down and try to talk to her about it, let alone force her to sit in a room until things have been discussed. Her mom says near the end that it might have been a mistake not to tell her certain things earlier and I was like, "No duh, Mom." Overall, I thought it would make a more interesting story if it was Noelle's brother who was supposed to be Santa and she was arguing that it should go to the firstborn child, not the firstborn son. (Also, if it's always been the firstborn child rather than son, how have we gone this long without a female inheriting? That seems statistically unlikely as the Santas appear to want to hand the job over by the time they're forty.)

I felt Noelle's parents were doing a bad job of passing on the Santa torch. Not only did they never actually talk to Noelle about why it was important she, and not her brother, be the new Santa, they never explained why she had to take on this mantle on her seventeenth birthday. Her father did plan on doing the Christmas Eve run with her the first few years rather than just tossing her into it like apparently happened to him despite his dad still being alive, but he never explains why it's happening now rather than after his daughter is grown. It's pretty obvious Noelle isn't mature enough to be more than an apprentice, if that, at the start of all of this, so I assume there's a reason for not saying, "You know what, we'll do the whole coronation thing when you're twenty one. Or maybe thirty," but the only clue we're given is that Dad seems tired.

As to Noelle' grandparents... Both sets live in Winter Wonderland, but we never see any of them. The closest we come is a cameo by her grandmother's dog. I'm not sure what was up with that. As indicated earlier, I don't quite get what triggers Santa handing the job down to his offspring and I never figured out what he does after he's stopped being Santa.

The villain was very shallow, although it looks like the next book in the series will flesh him out some. He doesn't have any motivation in this book other than the standard "ruin Christmas" desire villains in stories like this tend to get assigned. I'm hoping that when we see him again later we'll get more about why he's trying to take down Santa.

So, yeah, there were some problems with this book, but I did enjoy it and fully intend to read the next installment whenever it gets released. And actual teens may find it easier to relate to Noelle than I did. I recommend it as a playful Santa story for people who are looking for more fun than depth. Which, let's face is, is a lot of people in December as the holiday stress makes many of us desperate for escape.

Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.


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Notes

6% These elves seem more like dwarves, but okay.

8% Santa's sleigh being pulled by flying by polar bears would be way cooler than reindeer.

9% I have no idea what she thinks will happen when she runs away. Is she not aware that money is a thing she'll need? You know, in addition to there being someone who wants to kidnap her.

12% Cracked snow globe doesn't sound good

13% I'm not sure who the boy with her brother is or if his presence is related to the broken snow globe. I assumed she would have recognized Cole.

13% Yeah, so the snow globe represents the shield around their house. She should probably tell her parents it's broken.

14% I'm not sure how she managed to forget about finding a secret tunnel already. I would think finding a secret passage in your house would stand out in your memory.

16% Finn has drinkable eyes, huh?

17% A box of whale blubber? WTF? Also, how does Noelle recognize what it is? Does the Santa family routinely murder whales? If I saw some, I'd probably be like, "Something bloody and foul smelling" but wouldn't know exactly what it was.

17% So the town outside Santa's globe is in Alaska. Okay. I would have thought Greenland or Lapland, but fine. Maybe we're going with the idea that North Pole is so obvious because no one would suspect a real connection to Santa somewhere that garishly Christmas.

17% If Finn and Nicky are good friends, shouldn't Noelle have deduced he was the one following her brother in the workshop?

18% Anyone who needs warned that hot chocolate is hot has a problem that should probably be taken into consideration if you're wanting to form a romantic bond with them...

19% She's clearly going to be annoyed with Finn for sharing the secret she blabbed, but she didn't wait long enough to see what he was gossiping about. My money is on it having been the hot chocolate being yummy.

20% She doesn't even know where town is? It seems she really should have researched all this before she started making escape attempts.

30% So apparently the gossip was the she's a flirt? Weird...

43% And now she says she did hear him tell others about the actual secret. Although I don't think she actually told him not to tell people that, so being pisses a year later seems like a lot.

44% This dapper dude at the beach seems out of place. I'm betting he's the evil elf.

50% Animal stowaway, huh? So evil elf shape shifts or has a trained animal?

53% Someone rerouted her string and she isn't curious about this?

57% I'd be more curious about why the sim was cancelled. I'm assuming its safety features are turned off or something.

75% Finn says he didn't blad about the evil elf and is amused she thinks he did. I'm back to thinking he was telling the girls about the hot chocolate and the narration saying otherwise was unreliable.

76% Hmm... I don't know why the snow globe started healing. Is it because Noelle is close to fixing things with Finn? I've been thinking for a while that it will repair itself when she accepts being Santa.

78% Dapper Guy from the Beach was the evil elf! How... Not surprising. It might have been surprising if he was more stealthy, like if the hikers wound up being Evil Guy and His Evil Wife.

82% Evil Elf was pretty easy to defeat. Although I suppose not everyone would have a pet polar bear with a sweet tooth at the ready.

83% Yep, Finn was talking about the hot chocolate.

86% If it's always just the firstborn, it seems statistically unlikely there wouldn't have been another female...

91% I'm not sure I like her mom's reaction to being told she doesn't want to marry young. Makes me wonder if there's going to be a sequel along the line of the second Santa Clause, the one about the Mrs Clause.

93% Cole's into Noelle. We've hardly seen him so it's hard to care too much though.

98% Kissing Finn. He's not a bad love interest, but I kinda felt the only thing keeping them apart was the misunderstanding that I never fell for.

THE END
Overall, I'm kinda underwhelmed. Did search for the next one though in the hopes it will have more romantic tension than this one. It isn't out yet.

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