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Title: The Underground Princess (The Balderdash Saga, Book 1) | Author: J.W. Zulauf | Illustrator: Luke Spooner | Publication Date: November 29, 2014 | Publisher: Evolved Publishing, LLC | Pages: 139 | Recommended Ages: 6 to 12 | Reviewed by: Renee (Mother)
Summary: Lower Grade Chapter Book, Fantasy, Fairytale, Horror (For Kids 6-10 Years Old)
Not all fairytales take place in rolling hills or along sparkling beaches. Some happen right below our very feet like the corpses they are….
Evolved Publishing presents J.W. Zulauf’s debut novel, the first in The Balderdash Saga, a series of lower grade fairytales with a slightly dark edge.
Princess Scarlet is on a journey to find true love, but a malevolent force, Maleer, is in the process of dethroning her father, King Hurlock. Maleer intends to rule the underground kingdom of Balderdash, build an army, and break through the ground to invade the land of the living.
As Scarlet runs out of options to save those that matter most, she is forced to make decisions that will determine the fate of her entire kingdom.
Meet many friends, and a couple foes, on your visit to Balderdash. Whether you’re searching for true love with Princess Scarlet, or fighting for honor with Roland, the pirate knight, there is something for every reader within this coffin tale.
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My Thoughts: Princess Scarlet has long been dreaming of finding a prince to fall in love with and to marry. Unfortunately, princes are rare in Balderdash – – an underground Kingdom created by a shaman and populated with the previously living, who manage to stay “un-dead” by drinking a special Preservation Potion. Until one day, a prince is buried in the cursed cemetery above the Kingdom and Scarlet’s prayers are answered. But before the prince can be exhume and brought to Balderdash to be revived, the evil Maleer kidnaps the King’s apothecaries, revives the Prince himself, and plots to overthrow the King and rule supreme over Balderdash. It is up to Scarlet and the royal family’s trusty pirate knight Roland to save the day.
This fabulous book completely took me by surprise. When I read the book summary I thought to myself “Oh dear, a zombie book for middle grade”. But, this book is nothing like what I expected. This book features brilliant writing from the author, believable and relatable characters (yes, even though they are “dead”), and a clever yet simple plot. The story uses basic themes pulled from classic fairy tales (e.g., girl wants to fall in love, evil person trying to rule the world, girl finds true love, etc.); but, the twist of having dead (and decaying) characters living in an underground world provides unique and innovative scenarios which resulted in the creation of a riveting and original story.
With her constant yearning for finding love, I found myself comparing Princess Scarlet to some of the Disney princesses (much to my dismay); but, once again I was surprised by this character’s development over the course of the story. In the end, she proved herself to be loyal, strong, and intelligent; thus making her a good role model for girls. I also thought the author did a great job with the secondary characters such as King Hurlock, Maleer, Roland, the Prince, and even Screech the Owl, making each unique and interesting. There was never a dull moment with this colorful cast of characters!
The Underground Princess is the first book in a planned series (The Balderdash Saga) and the author does a great job establishing the setting without bogging the reader down with unnecessary details. I felt that the author provided the correct pace for the story and infused just the right amount of information and humor to satisfy a middle grade reader, or even to make it a great choice for reading aloud to children. Aside from the delectable plot twists and turns, there are several examples of exceptional writing in this book. For example, I thought it was very clever how the origin of Balderdash was explained through a puppet show witnessed by Scarlet during a festival. But, for me, the most satisfying part of the book involved the simple messages underlying the story… about courage, loyalty, beauty, and love. The story wraps up in the most satisfying way while still leaving the reader with a range of possibilities for what adventures are still in store for Princess Scarlet and the others.
A word about the illustrations … the book features roughly one illustration (by Luke Spooner) per chapter and for a middle grade audience, that is definitely a good thing! Because the book features characters who are in various states of decay, I felt that it was not only appropriate to include images of the characters but advantageous so that children’s imaginations would not lead them to something more frightening than what is depicted in the story. While the illustrations are creepy, they are not frightening so I felt the illustrator did a good job in depicting various scenes and characters in such a way to not give children nightmares.
My Bottom Line: The Underground Princess is a fabulous and unique book that completely took me by surprise. It features exceptional writing, relatable characters, and a very clever plot with underlying messages about loyalty, courage, beauty, and love. I highly recommend this book to children ages 6 to 12 as a great read-aloud book or for those interested in reading something with a touch of macabre. This one is definitely a candidate for a Hidden Gem Award by MDBR in the future!
* This book was provided to me by the author free-of-charge in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. The author is participating in our book promotion services.*
About the Author: J.W. Zulauf
I would love to say that from the second I could use my fingers, I began to write, but I can’t. Sure there were times through my life when writing surfaced and fell away, but the truth is, I couldn’t even read all that well through most of my teens. Then one day, my father gave me a copy of The Stand by Stephen King, and even though it took me a year to finish, I did it.
This experience changed my life.
From that point, I strove to become the best reader and writer I could be. I was driven by an unbelievable passion to become a writer, and here I am. I truly started from the bottom and worked hard to become who I am now. Reading saved my life.
* Giveaways *
Book Blast Giveaway
Prize: One winner who will receive a copy of The Underground Princess (print US & Canada; electronic copy for international winners) + a $10 Amazon gift card or PayPal cash prize
Contest ends: December 19, 11:59 pm, 2014
How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.
Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. The winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If a winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, J.W. Zulauf and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com.