"She could storm a castle, but you could last a siege."
-A description of the two princesses by the dragon Vollys.
Meryl is brave, brash and energetic. Addie is shy and terrified of everything. But when Meryl falls fatally ill, it's Addie who has to face monsters in a quest to save her sister. Whether the quest is successful or not is- debatable.
The book has been around for a while, (published 2001,) so it's possible you've already read it. ^_^ This is a re-read for me, as after devouring Ella Enchanted I went through everything my library had by Levine in a week. The first time around I just decided I didn't like this one, and dismissed it. Since now I am an "adult" I thought I should think about it more on the second visit, which I did enjoy more.
One of the reasons I didn't like this one at first, I think, is because of the different tone of the story from what I expected. In Ella Enchanted the main character is essentially hopeful. Even when she's cutting herself off from the boy she loves, there are still friends by her side, and there's still a sense that this can be fixed. In The Two Princesses of Bamarre, the main character is essentially fearful. Even when she's triumphed in battle, there is still a sense of what else can go wrong, and Meryl is still dying.
The majority of the characters in the story are only treated with briefly. In fact, only four characters really take shape in any way, and one is a dragon. (The greedy, temperamental and clever Vollys is actually my favourite . "In case you were thinking of escaping, I always close the door securely. *lies down* I am the door.") I love lots of characters, but for this story, the sparse cast worked. The main conflicts are Addie's internal battles.
The whole story was about finding courage, and it thankfully neatly side-stepped the easy speech about "courage is doing things you're afraid of even though you're afraid." It showed that you can find your courage, face the worst thing in the world, and it can still happen. The ending is a- source of contention. I have friends who say they hate it, and friends who love it, and friends who refuse to answer the question. For me personally, I thought it fit well with the rest of the book. To give a pat "happy" ending would have been jarring after the rest of the book, and to give the ending I cynically expected would be too bitter for the age group. (Plus it would probably have doubled the book, to deal with the outfall.) So the bittersweet frustration to end off with did work, in my mind.
I still don't really like this story, but once I get past the second chapter I'm sucked in till the end. I gave it three stars out of five.
(I should mention that my stars system is based on how much I personally liked it, and would I read it again. From "I didn't like it" at one star to "I loved it" at five. This isn't intended to be an overall describer of quality.)