Violet is rambunctious, messy, prickly and smart. She’s not the beautiful princess the whole kingdom was expecting, but they love her anyway. When bad things start to happen, however – Violet’s mother, the queen, gets sick; the king sets off on a crazy quest to find a dragon – Violet can’t help wondering if everything would be better if she were a more beautiful princess. A real princess. An evil god hears Violet’s self-doubt and makes a terrible deal with her: he’ll make her beautiful if she’ll set him free from his ancient prison.
A tradition has sprung up in the last few years of middle-grade books about offbeat princesses. The message is a good one – you don’t have to be Disney-perfect to be the perfect you – but a lot of books go too heavy on the message and the story ends up falling flat. Iron Hearted Violet sidesteps this problem and then some. It’s the first “offbeat princess” book I’ve read where I was genuinely moved by the princess’s crisis of self-image. The story is rich and mysterious, and Violet has to overcome some truly harrowing obstacles to save her kingdom and herself. This is no throwaway summer read – Iron Hearted Violet is a good, meaty winter book. Bonus points for very original use of dragons – just when you think you’ve seen it all before!
Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill; Hachette; 16.99; Ages 9-12