The Rejection of Societal Femininity, or Princess Floralinda and the Forty Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

cover art: tristan elwell

spoilers: heavy
rating: 4 stars
rep: sapphic mc, sapphic li, non-binary li

Unless you follow me on twitter, you might not know my love of the Locked Tomb series. Two months after reading Gideon the Ninth, I got a tattoo of one of the symbols from the book. In the August 2020, I read the sequel, Harrow the Ninth, constantly for the two days it took me to read it. I adore Tamsyn Muir. I adore the characters she created. I adore the care she puts into her worldbuilding. I adore the writing style that is so undeniably her’s.

So, going into Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower, there was no doubt in my mind that I would love the novella. It is a fairytale story, undeniably, and even looking at the cover, you can tell it is inspired by Rapunzel but in the same sort of way Shrek was inspired by Rapunzel. While it is not a condemnation of fairytales, it is a reclaiming of them. Our main character, the titular Floralinda, is exactly what you would expect of a princess. Once she is looked away in a tower by a witch, she expectantly waits for her prince to come rescue her. But once the princes stop coming, she is left to fight her own down the tower with the help of Cobweb, a fairy she captures and imprisons.

I could talk about the technical aspects of the book. I would talk about the technical details of the character development, probably even plot it onto one of those charts that every high school English teacher has. But, as technically strong it all is, that isn’t what made me like the book as much as I do. Yes the masterfully done characterization helps, adds to everything I loved in ways that I cannot put into words, what pulled me in is what Floralinda’s story says.

Floralinda begins as the ideal of femininity and wealth. She is a beautiful thing, full of longing for only what society tells her to want. She expects a prince to save her. Even if she understands why they might not want to, there is that expectation there. The witch expects her to simply wait at the top of the tower to be rescued. And she turns all of those on their head, rejects them with the skinning of rats fur, rejects them with the creation of a spear, rejects them with a push of a goblin (or four) out a window.

I mentioned this above but this is largely a reclamation of fairytales. Rather than simply waiting around, Floralinda makes herself into a hero—and later a monster—and saves herself. She’s not alone in this, guided by the help of Cobweb and really, without Cobweb she would probably still be in that tower. But she takes action into her own hands. She slays every beast in the flights of the towers. The woman we see at the end, someone competent and capable of such tremendous violence , is not the same timid and unintelligent princess we meet at the start.

Now, I didn’t love everything about the book. I never really believed the relationship that was built between Cobweb and Floralinda, mostly given to the brevity of the novella but also the tendency for it to skip weeks forward in time without giving much information about what happens inbetween.

And it is also incredibly white. The main character, and the only human character, is white. Cobweb is a fairy and their race is really never mentioned but since it’s not mentioned, it’s not like it’s representation. There is also the witch but again, her race isn’t mentioned.

In the same vein of representation, I think the ways non-binary gender was handled and discussed. Cobweb says that they don’t feel like a girl or a boy, and Floralinda simply assigns them a gender. It isn’t a big deal but it was just a bit weird to me.

Overall, Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a book I enjoyed and the sort of retelling/modern fairytale I am looking for, the sort where society is challenged and rejected, with some hitches along the way that kept me from loving it.

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