Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower

by Tamsyn Muir

Cover image

Publisher: Subterranean Press
Copyright: 2020
ISBN: 1-59606-992-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 111

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A witch put Princess Floralinda at the top of a forty-flight tower, but it wasn't personal. This is just what witches do, particularly with princesses with butter-coloured curls and sapphire-blue eyes. Princes would come from miles around to battle up the floors of the tower and rescue the princess. The witch even helpfully provided a golden sword, in case a prince didn't care that much about princesses. Floralinda was provided with water and milk, two loaves of bread, and an orange, all of them magically renewing, to sustain her while she waited.

In retrospect, the dragon with diamond-encrusted scales on the first floor may have been a mistake. None of the princely endeavors ever saw the second floor. The diary that Floralinda found in her room indicated that she may not be the first princess to have failed to be rescued from this tower.

Floralinda finally reaches the rather astonishing conclusion that she might have to venture down the tower herself, despite the goblins she was warned were on the 39th floor (not to mention all the other monsters). The result of that short adventure, after some fast thinking, a great deal of luck, and an unforeseen assist from her magical food, is a surprising number of dead goblins. Also seriously infected hand wounds, because it wouldn't be a Tamsyn Muir story without wasting illness and body horror. That probably would have been the end of Floralinda, except a storm blew a bottom-of-the-garden fairy in through the window, sufficiently injured that she and Floralinda were stuck with each other, at least temporarily.

Cobweb, the fairy, is neither kind nor inclined to help Floralinda (particularly given that Floralinda is not a child whose mother is currently in hospital), but it is an amateur chemist and finds both Floralinda's tears and magical food intriguing. Cobweb's magic is also based on wishes, and after a few failed attempts, Floralinda manages to make a wish that takes hold. Whether she'll regret the results is another question.

This is a fairly short novella by the same author as Gideon the Ninth, but it's in a different universe and quite different in tone. This summary doesn't capture the writing style, which is a hard-to-describe mix of fairy tale, children's story, and slightly archaic and long-winded sentence construction. This is probably easier to show with a quote:

"You are displaying a very small-minded attitude," said the fairy, who seemed genuinely grieved by this. "Consider the orange-peel, which by itself has many very nice properties. Now, if you had a more educated brain (I cannot consider myself educated; I have only attempted to better my situation) you would have immediately said, 'Why, if I had some liquor, or even very hot water, I could extract some oil from this orange-peel, which as everyone knows is antibacterial; that may well do my hands some good,' and you wouldn't be in such a stupid predicament."

On balance, I think this style worked. It occasionally annoyed me, but it has some charm. About halfway through, I was finding the story lightly entertaining, although I would have preferred a bit less grime, illness, and physical injury.

Unfortunately, the rest of the story didn't work for me. The dynamic between Floralinda and Cobweb turns into a sort of D&D progression through monster fights, and while there are some creative twists to those fights, they become all of a sameness. And while I won't spoil the ending, it didn't work for me. I think I see what Muir was trying to do, and I have some intellectual appreciation for the idea, but it wasn't emotionally satisfying.

I think my root problem with this story is that Muir sets up a rather interesting world, one in which witches artistically imprison princesses, and particularly bright princesses (with the help of amateur chemist fairies) can use the trappings of a magical tower in ways the witch never intended. I liked that; it has a lot of potential. But I didn't feel like that potential went anywhere satisfying. There is some relationship and characterization work, and it reached some resolution, but it didn't go as far as I wanted. And, most significantly, I found the end point the characters reached in relation to the world to be deeply unsatisfying and vaguely irritating.

I wanted to like this more than I did. I think there's a story idea in here that I would have enjoyed more. Unfortunately, it's not the one that Muir wrote, and since so much of my problem is with the ending, I can't provide much guidance on whether someone else would like this story better (and why). But if the idea of taking apart a fairy-tale tower and repurposing the pieces sounds appealing, and if you get along better with Muir's illness motif than I do, you may enjoy this more than I did.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-03-31

Last modified and spun 2022-04-01