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Literature / The Secret Of The Crystal Castle

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The Secret of the Crystal Castle (Russian: Тайна Хрустального замка, Tayna Hrustal'nogo zamka) is a Fractured Fairy Tale by Sofia Prokofieva.

Princess Alfiora sends her two suitors Hugly and Gialmar to search for the mysterious Crystal Castle, where, according to rumors, one can get eternal youth – and the princess is terribly frightened of getting old and withered. The Warrior Poet knight Gialmar manages to reach the castle, despite the fact that he hears several warnings about the place, and initially believes he has found the place of eternal joy. That is, until he sees that one of the castle's many inhabitants, a girl named Ninisel, unlike the others, is constantly sad and dejected; urged by him, Ninisel begins to reveal that to live in the castle, she has placed herself under some terrible curse. Gialmar realizes the shallowness of his attraction to Alfiora and falls in love with Ninisel.

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Meanwhile, Queen Demonta, the owner of the Crystal Castle, starts her own intrigue to use Gialmar's love for Ninisel for the growth of her own power.

The Secret of the Crystal Castle contains examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Signi the Red, a gruff and rude miller, towards Ninisel.
  • The Big Guy: Hugly.
  • Break the Haughty: Hugly's arc is all about him slowly realizing he has been a massive jerk.
  • Crapsaccharine World: A lovely crystal castle full of light, with a crowd of happy people living inside with every luxury possible. Only when Gialmar sees the near-tearful Ninisel does he suspect something is off.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Alfiora's pride and vanity disgust Demonta. Subverted, since it simply means that Alfiora's dark soul won't light up even the tiniest corner of her Crystal Castle.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Demonta goes out of her way to appear sweet and benevolent (unless she’s really angry). The "faux" part becomes obvious in the very first chapter, where she cruelly taunts a girl who went out to see her village and came back too late – as the girl rapidly ages and crumbles to dust.
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  • First Girl Wins: Hugly ends up with his former fiancée Margareta who still loves him.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: The beginning introduces a beautiful princess, a villainous suitor, a heroic suitor, and an Engagement Challenge. All of the above gets heavily deconstructed.
  • Genre Blindness: Queen Demonta demanding one gives up one's cross in exchange for eternal life of earthly pleasures in the Crystal Castle. Many characters don't know what in the world can be wrong with it.
  • Hidden Depths: Signi the Red, now a centenarian with a son hanged for murder and robbery and grown grandchildren of the same sort, remembers Ninisel with unusual sadness and fondness and wishes he could have been a better man so that she would have stayed with him.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Even this, usually one of the author's favorite tropes for grown-up heroes, gets subverted.
    • Ninisel, helpless and near death, gives up her soul.
    • Gialmar nearly gives up his soul to stay with Ninisel.
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    • Played straight with the holy hermit in the forest and with old Belinda who also lives nearby. They see the Crystal Castle all the time and don't feel the slightest wish to go there.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Queen Demonta.
  • Love Potion: Made by Demonta for Alfiora to charm Gialmar. It happens the other way round: Alfiora drinks it and falls madly in love with him, with disastrous consequences.
  • Mundane Solution: The hermit in the forest is absolutely immune to Demonta's magic, and his presence infuriates her so much that she hires simple non-magical assassins to kill him. It doesn't work either.
  • Only the Pure of Heart: Only good-hearted people can see the Crystal Castle. To the rest it appears as an old tree half-cut by lightning. Signi the Red can't see it and knows why, Alfiora can't see it and doesn't believe she is unworthy of it (or of anything at all), and Hugly can't see it either until he reforms.
  • Out of the Frying Pan: Ninisel runs away from Signi, only for her despair (she is completely alone, freezing and starving in a snow field) to be exploited by Demonta, who persuades the girl to give up her soul.
  • No Name Given: The holy hermit in the forest.
  • Princesses Rule: Alfiora is the absolute ruler of her realm but doesn’t call herself queen.
  • Proud Beauty: Princess Alfiora is gorgeous and very much aware of it. Her only fear is growing old and ugly. She ends up alone, burning with passion for Gialmar, with her soul given up to Demonta.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Gender-flipped with Princess Alfiora and the penniless Ninisel for Gialmar.
  • Runaway Bride: Ninisel somehow manages to escape from her wedding to Signi the Red, hearing him commenting on the approaching wedding night.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Gialmar (lute-playing, dreamy, slender) and Hugly (rough, fierce, strongly-built) are like this when they first appear to court Princess Alfiora. Subverted with both: Gialmar is pretty badass despite his sensitiveness, and Hugly gradually reveals his softer side.
  • Shipper with an Agenda: Demonta is all for Gialmar and Ninisel getting married, provided, of course, Gialmar gives up his soul and stays in the Crystal Castle.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Signi the Red's bloodthirsty grandsons.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Gialmar in the beginning.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: For the permanent residents of the Crystal Castle. If any of them attempt to escape, they are sure to have No Immortal Inertia (the first chapter has a nightmarish description of such a case).
  • Your Soul Is Mine: Queen Demonta needs to corrupt pure human souls to light her castle.
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