Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower was not at all what I expected. But in retrospect, I’ve come to conclude that my expectations may have been a bit daft. Based on the title and some choice pull quotes, I thought I might be getting a bit of a gently inverted fairy tale.
More fool me.
This is Tamsyn Muir we’re speaking of here. The author of the Locked Tomb series, whose bread and butter is messy, fucked up sort of sapphic relationships in gruesome settings.
And this is sort of what we’re getting here folks. Princess Floralinda, just like her more classical counterparts, has been locked away by a witch in a tower and is waiting to be rescued by a brave prince. And indeed, several well-intentioned princes make their way to the tower in an attempt to liberate Floralinda. But guess what? Looks like she won’t be getting romantic endings with any of them
Not one of them manages to make their way through the 39 floors of monsters. In fact, most of them stumble at the gate and fall victim to the dragon at the front door. In all likelihood, no one will be coming in time for Christmas. And the tower will be getting cold.
But then, after all this disappointment, Floralinda—who really is nothing more than your typical princess at this stage—accidentally makes her first kill. With the very reluctant help of a blown-in and stranded fairy named Cobweb, Floralinda starts preparing to take on the monsters herself.
This is not, by the way, the story of a girl who discovers her inner Xena, Warrior Princess. That would be the more gentle inversion I was imagining. The lessons Floralinda learns here are rather vicious, and as a result, Floralinda takes on a rather vicious streak herself. Nothing that happens here fits under the umbrella of Girl Power and instead reverberates with a wave of underlying anger at how unjust everything is.
The working relationship between Floralinda and Cobweb is no walk in the park either. (The latter, who, by the way, is only roughly assigned a girl, as faries cannot be bothered with gender.) It seems to oscillate between love—at least on Floralinda’s part—and cruelty. It’s certainly very messy. And absolutely shares a good deal of resemblance with certain relationships portrayed in Gideon and Harrow the Ninth.
Muir employs the same level of snark and wit here as she’s done with her previous books, so the overall tone becomes one of rather dark humour. This is especially evident when Cobweb goes into one of her deep dives about the logistics and dangers of each situation they find themselves in—only to casually dismiss any concerns for Floralinda. While I have harped on a bit about how cruel most of the story is, I couldn’t help but laugh at this. The audiobook is also narrated by Moira Quirk, who is still a delight. And it’s her narration that helps Cobweb come across as a more competent and less highly-strung Mercymorn, which probably made me like them a bit better.
I have very mixed feeling about this novella overall. I enjoy Muir’s writing style, and her often ridiculous but still biting sense of humour. But I’m not sure I loved either of the main characters. I was happy to put up with the hot messes that were the protagonists of the Locked Tomb books because we were given space to get to know them—letting them endear themselves to us*. But I didn’t feel that here. And I also didn’t love the fact that despite its short length, the story got a bit soggy in the middle. But if you’re a fan of either Gideon or Harrow, Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is still worth checking out.