The Tsar's Promise

The Tsar's Promise

by Robert D. San Souci, Lauren A. Mills

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This latest offering from the author of The Talking Eggs and The Samurai's Daughter is based on a story from Andrew Lang's The Green Fairy Book. As the result of a hasty promise made by his father, Ivan, a tsar's son, must flee the clutches of an evil demon together with the beautiful Maria, an enchanted princess. San Souci combines several elements (too many, perhaps) of a classic fairy story: a subterranean palace (here, carved from a single ruby); impossible tasks that must be accomplished to win freedom; a wild flight with villains in pursuit. The tale begins promisingly, but loses its momentum in a tangled plot; the resolution, especially (in which the pair foil their pursuers with some quick-change legerdemain), seems abrupt and overly tidy. Mills's ( The Rag Coat ) evocative illustrations, in muted sepias and turquoises with embellished borders, extend the magical motifs, but occasionally exhibit a commercial look, particularly in the protagonists' faces. (One puzzlement is the depiction of a fly on Maria's right cheek--an insect that the text specifically places on her left cheek.) Both writer and artist conjure up a number of striking images here, but the end result falls short of the mark. Ages 4-up. (Nov.)
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-- Returning from a long journey, Tsar Kojata is captured by a hideous demon who demands to have what awaits the ruler at home. Thinking that nothing is worth risking his life over, Kojata agrees. But once home, he discovers that his son was born during his absence. Because Kojata forgets his promise to the demon, it is Prince Ivan who must honor it. Aided by Maria, a beautiful young woman who is also a prisoner of the demon, the young man completes each seemingly impossible task he's asked to perform and eventually returns to his homeland safely with Maria as his wife. San Souci draws largely upon the Russian folktale ``King Kojata'' found in Andrew Lang's The Green Fairy Book (Airmont, 1969). Although his retelling is competent, several key incidents providing much-needed character motivation have been left out. Unfortunately, the book's illustrations do little to clarify the story line. Employing a fairly realistic style, Mills uses a muted palette dominated by brown, gold, and orange for her watercolor washes. Lacking the sensitivity of her earlier work, her illustrations here look amateurish, muddy, and disturbingly flat. There's almost no sense of action or movement, and her depiction of demons seems awkward at best. The characters have northern European features, and there's little about the costumes, architecture, or religious items that identify them as uniquely Russian. Despite good intentions, this picture book never quite hits its mark. --Denise Anton Wright, Illinois State University, Normal
Chris Sherman
San Souci's retelling of this old Russian tale includes all the elements that have long ensured the popularity of folktales: evil demons with horrific powers, a handsome couple, fearsome tests, dramatic flight and pursuit, enchantment, and true love conquering all. When he's unwittingly promised to a demon by his father, the young Tsarevitch, Ivan, honors the promise and surrenders himself. The demon offers Ivan freedom if he can perform three impossible tasks. Ivan is helped by Maria, a beautiful princess stolen by the demon, who has learned some of the demon's magic. Eventually, Ivan and Maria foil the demon, but a marvelous tension builds until the couple is finally safe and married happily ever after. A frightening depiction of demons and trolls enhances the eerieness of the tale, but the mood is softened by Mills' dreamy, golden watercolors and by the beauty of Ivan and Maria.

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.79(w) x 11.33(h) x 0.41(d)
Age Range:
4 Years

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