Hello book bees and welcome to an experimental post! I’ve never done a post like this one and I want to see if this is something I’m interested in writing/others are interested in reading. Essentially I’ll be breaking down the protagonist from Melanie Cellier’s The Princess Companion.
Alyssa the Royal Princess Companion
When we meet Alyssa, she’s actually a woodcutter’s daughter on a journey to the capital of her kingdom, Arcadie. There she plans to live with her aunt and find employment that will bring pride and financial stability to her family. Unfortunately, she gets separated from the merchants she was traveling with and ends up seeking shelter in the rain at the winter palace of the royal family. Mistaken at first for a royal visitor, when the situation is cleared up Alyssa is offered employment as the companion to the young princesses Sophie and Lily. The princesses are precocious, clever, and lonely to Alyssa’s surprise. She grows close to them, teaching them lessons on empathy and consideration as well as humility and love. As she bonds with the girls, she also begins to grow close with the rest of the royal family. She shares interests with the prince Max, allows the queen to confide in her, and agrees to assist the king due to her skills in reading other people.
What makes Alyssa interesting
Cellier is one of many authors writing series of fairy tale retellings based in fictional fantasy worlds of their own creation. As is common with these authors, series can stretch for many books, and as such often rely on interesting and unique protagonists who can still fit the mold of the fairy tale characters they are based off of. Alyssa’s tale is “The Princess and the Pea,” and so a key factor in her character is that she is a princess at heart. In other words, she embodies the key factors of a good rule: humility, empathy, intuition, and compassion.
For myself, the two most interesting aspects of Alyssa’s personality where that she has a strangely cunning sense of intuition when it comes to determining peoples’ intentions, and she has a distinct interest in aspects of ruling such as alliances and international politics. Naturally these traits ultimately save the day towards the end of the plot of the novel.
How Alyssa stands out
As a character in a fairy tale retelling, Alyssa is almost aware of her role. She knows that she’s the woodcutter’s daughter and that her sudden rise through the ranks to be Princess Companion is unprecedented. Still, she genuinely cares for the royal family and intentionally tries to teach the girls to be good princesses, while openly acknowledging all the unfortunate aspects of growing up royal. She recognizes both the wealth and privilege of royalty–teaching the girls humility and to be polite to servants–while also realizing the advantages she enjoys over them, such as not having pressure to marry for alliances.
Generally in these stories if the protagonist is a princess, she is unaware of the struggles of her people and will inevitably spend some time learning more about them. If she is a commoner, she likely is so dazzled by royalty she never takes the time to recognize the advantages of being a commoner. Alyssa manages to straddle this line and have poignant observations on wealth and privilege as well as social expectations. I found that Alyssa was a more interesting protagonist for this nature.
My goal with this character study was to look at Alyssa, who reads as slightly different from other fairy tale retelling protagonists. Alyssa is more openly cunning, more complex in her views of the imbalance between herself and the royalty she serves, and more actively intellectual than one would expect. She stands out from the other protagonists of Cellier’s books (the ones I’ve read thus far) as well as against those from other series and authors. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how her first person perspective read differently from others, but I hope I’ve provided some insight into that feeling without having to delve into spoilers for the plot of her novel.
If you’ve read any fairy tale retelling stories, let me know in the comments a character that struck you as unique!