Never After by Rebecca Lickiss is an inventive take on the traditional fairy tale with allusions to at least half a dozen stories.
Prince Althelstan needs a bride, but there is a shortage of marriageable princesses. Lady Vevila is restless and wants adventure, not a husband. Prince Althelstan suckers his cousin into helping him on his quest. All he needs is a princess to kiss the three sleeping princes awake in order for the rest of the castle--and his princess--to also awaken. With the help of three magicians, it should be no problem, right?
Too bad the evil witch wants them all to stay away from her precious sleeping princes. Lady Vevila must prove she is a princess by submitting to a princess test: in her case, spinning straw into gold. Which is, of course, ridiculous. Here enters Rumpelstiltskin with his own agenda, which has nothing to do with stealing her firstborn son and everything to do with her kissing a frog.
Lady Vevila has had it with everyone: the witch for insisting on the silly princess test, the magicians for their greed and adding additional nights of gold spinning, and her cousin for having dragged her into this in the first place. Even Rumpelstiltskin for only swapping the straw for gold instead of getting her out and still charging the unspecified favor for each exchange. What will she do to make each of them pay for her ordeal?
This book kept me entertained all the way through with its fairy tale appeal, distinctive characters, hilarious dialogue, breezy narration, and one strong-willed young woman who does not take kindly to being penned up and having her own desires thwarted.