Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower, by Tamsyn Muir

Russ Allbery eagle at
Thu Mar 31 21:30:27 PDT 2022

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower
by Tamsyn Muir

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

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


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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