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Literature / The Unhandsome Prince

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The Unhandsome Prince is a comedic fantasy novel of the Fractured Fairy Tale variety by John Moore. Like most of his fantasies, it's set in a place called "The Twenty Kingdoms", where fairy-tale rules always apply. In this case, in a kingdom called Melinower.

Caroline has spent months methodically sifting through the swamp to find that one frog who is a prince. After she finally kisses the right one, though, she's severely disappointed. Prince Hal isn't ugly or anything, but he's pretty geeky; hardly the sort of thing girls dream about. She knows her rights, and a beautiful girl who kisses the right frog is owed a handsome prince. It's the law.

Emily is the daughter and heir of the now-deceased witch who enchanted Prince Hal. Still an apprentice magic-user, she needs the magical things she inherited from her mother to have a chance of finding a first-rate magician willing to take her on. If she can't find an adequate prince for Caroline, though, she may be forced to sell it all in order to pay Caroline legal compensation.

Prince Hal is a nice guy, and smart, even if he's not a looker. He wants to help the girls, and he does have two older brothers who are both as handsome as anyone could ask for. Caroline's lack of a dowry may complicate matters, especially since his family is having money troubles, but Caroline is beautiful, so maybe something can be arranged. So together, the three set off for the capital.

Tropes found in this work:

  • Bewitched Amphibians: The prince has been turned into a frog, but when the beautiful maiden rescues him with a kiss, she's not pleased with her prize.
  • Cool Sword: The enchanted sword that Prince Hal picks up at a tavern appears to be utterly useless—one character comments, "Mr. Genius here gets the only magic sword that guarantees you'll get your butt kicked"—but it's still a cool sword, beautifully crafted from the finest quality materials. It's a "singing sword", which, as Hal explains, doesn't mean it actually sings, but that it's so well made that it emits a musical tone when tapped. It becomes even cooler once Hal figures out the trick to using it.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: In addition to murdering The Frog Prince, the story gives us fractured versions of Rumpelstilskin and Rapunzel.
  • Greedy Jew: Invoked—this is one of the reasons the King and Prince Kenneth (not the prince of the title) cite to support their plan to kick the Jews out of the kingdom and confiscate their property (neatly solving the family's money problems).
  • Impoverished Patrician: The King has a severe gambling problem, which is why the family is having money troubles.
  • Murder, Inc.: Subverted. The capital of Melinower does have an Assassin's Guildóbut it's actually a fake, run by the palace guard, to catch people who might want to hire or join such an organization.
  • Philosopher's Stone: It was Prince Hal's attempt to steal this from Emily's mother that led to him getting turned into a frog. In addition to its traditional power of turning things into gold, it also causes anyone that touches it to start spouting philosophy (although not necessarily very deep philosophy).
  • Prince Charmless: The titular Prince Hal is not this trope, but Caroline doesn't want to marry him—the reward for kissing the right frog is supposed to be a handsome prince, and Hal is...well, not the thing girls dream about. His oldest brother, Prince Kenneth, on the other hand, seems like all Caroline could ask for, except for the rudeness, the arrogance, the mean streak, the cruelty to animals, the utter ruthlessness....
  • Rags to Royalty: Caroline knows she's destined for this. It was hard work finding the right frog to kiss. The only problem is that the standard deal is for a handsome prince. She knows that she's beautiful, and she'll be damned if she's going to settle!
  • Rule of Funny: The book runs on this. For example, touching the Philosopher's Stone makes you start spouting philosophy—not one of its traditional powers.
  • Secret Stab Wound: The title character wins a tournament with an enchanted sword ... except that when he struck the winning blow, his opponent's dagger slipped beneath his breastplate and gravely wounded him. (The judges didn't see it.) Since the winner had bet on himself (at 100-1 odds), he couldn't reveal his injury or he'd lose the tournament (and his winnings, which he needed to keep his family from going bankrupt).
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Caroline is shocked and repelled by one brother of the unhandsome prince she disenchanted; she seriously considers marrying the unhandsome prince. As he has fallen in love with someone else in the meantime, she ends up marrying the third brother, who is both handsome and nice.
  • Standard Royal Court: The royal court of Melinower is very much a standard one, as you would expect in a Fractured Fairy Tale.
  • The Tourney: Melinower hosts a regular one, with separate categories for regular and enchanted weapons. Prince Hal decides to enter with the apparently-useless enchanted sword he recently bought, and, since no one knows that he's finally discovered the sword's secret, he can bet heavily on himself.
  • True Love's Kiss: Subverted when Caroline's kiss frees Prince Hal from being a frog. She takes one look and demands a better prince.
  • Twice-Told Tale: In addition to being very loosely based on The Frog Prince, includes encounters with a hair-obsessed woman living in a tower, named Rapunzel, and a dwarf with a magic spinning spell named Rumpelstiltskin.
  • Virgin Power: The one-use-only magic spell that Rumpelstiltskin has for turning straw into gold requires the loss of virginity—which is why Rumpel is still looking for the right girl.
  • Wicked Witch: Emily's mother wasn't really wicked, but she definitely had leanings in that direction, and certainly looked the part. And she did turn Prince Hal into a frog (although, to be fair, he was trying to steal something from her at the time).
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Rumplestiltskin never actually admits to being Jewish (in a world where antisemitism is definitely a real thing), but he seems to drop a lot of Yiddish into his conversation, and he becomes much more interested in Rapunzel when he finds some clues that she may be Jewish.