John Moore’s Heroics for Beginners was a delightful entry in light, comedic science fiction, and The Unhandsome Prince is a great follow-up. The story begins with the Frog Prince scenario, then hops off in unexpected directions.
Caroline is a commoner, the most beautiful girl in her village. Upon learning that a local witch has bespelled a prince into a frog, she (along with every other local commoner girl) decides to free the prince with a kiss. Problem is, there are a lot of frogs in the swamp, and what’s needed to find the right one is determination, dedication, and a plan. Plus, you have to keep kissing frogs.
Caroline has the stubborn nature and methodical approach needed, and sure enough, she eventually finds Prince Hal in froggy form, kisses him, and *poof*. There is Prince Hal, the third son of the King. He’s not handsome. In fact, he made a prettier frog. And he’s not even remotely in line to be King someday.
Caroline feels cheated, because she hadn’t done all that work to be a runner-up in the Queen sweepstakes. She sues the Witch (who has since died), and the local Council decides that, since a handsome prince was implicit in the contract, the Witch’s daughter, Emily, must travel with the two to set things right, or forfeit her mother’s estate. Emily can’t afford to give up her mother’s magic library, so she agrees to go along.
Along the way to Prince Hal’s castle home, the three encounter Rapunzel, a “hair-head” of monumental proportions, and Rumpelstiltskin, who is more of a con-dwarf than a magical spinner (and Jewish to boot). At the palace they meet Hal’s older brothers: Kenneth, the strong, handsome and arrogant jerk, and Jeffrey, the handsome accountant who is the only one in the family besides Hal who seems to realize the Royal Accounts are empty.
The resultant scramble to get Caroline hooked up with an appropriately handsome prince, get Emily and Hal to realize they are in love, resolve the Royal Bankruptcy, save Rumpelstiltskin from the anti-semitic efforts of the vile Prince Kenneth, and finally rescue Rapunzel, all before Hal turns back into a frog for good, make hilarious reading.
Once again, John Moore has given us a great twisted fairy tale. His stories have an internal consistency that underscores the humor, giving us leave to laugh, even when the subtext turns a little dark. And we know it’s a fairy tale, so we can be sure that every one who deserves it will live happily ever after—or if not ever after, at least eventually.