Once Upon a Marigold, by Jean Ferris

December 5, 2014 Book Reviews 4 ★★★★

Once Upon a Marigold, by Jean FerrisOnce Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris
Series: Upon a Marigold #1
Published by Harcourt Inc. on 2004-06-01
Genres: Fairy Tales, MG Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library
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Christian was clueless when he started spying on the royal family through his telescope. He lives in a cave with a troll for a dad, after all. If his dad had only warned him about all that mind-boggling love stuff, maybe things wouldn't be such a mess. Although then, maybe, Princess Marigold would be dead. But Christian wasn't warned. And now that he's fallen for the princess, it's up to him to untwist an odd love triangle--er, rectangle--and foil a scheming queen who wants to take over the kingdom, even if it means bumping off her own daughter.


A charming, quirky fairytale for MG readers on up.  The front cover describes Once Upon a Marigold as “part comedy, part love story, part everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” (and I’m not entirely sure the kitchen sink doesn’t come into it somewhere.)  Ferris manages to weave these elements together into a story that delights me every time I read it.

The story opens with Ed, a troll, finding the 6-year-old Christian lost in the woods.  When Christian flatly refuses to return home (wherever ‘home’ is), Ed takes on the task of raising him, which he does with the help of his dogs, much consulting of etiquette books, and a plethora of hilariously scrambled proverbs and aphorisms.  Ed’s squabbles with Queen Mab, the overworked and directionally-challenged Tooth Fairy, form an amusing little subplot which runs through the entire book.

Christian’s years with Ed are really just the prologue, however.  One day, he catches sight of Marigold, youngest princess of the King whose castle lies on the other side of the gorge from Ed’s woods.  Curious as to what she is reading, Christian sends her a message via carrier pigeon (p-mail!), and they strike up a long-distance friendship.  Eventually, of course, Christian decides to cross the gorge and begin to make his way in the world.  Inevitably he and Marigold meet, and from that point on, the reader barely has time to draw breath.  A curse, a wicked mother, multiple suitors for the princess, wrongful imprisonment, treachery, sacrifice – Ferris swirls together many of the fairytale tropes and gives them all an original and often comic twist.

Christian and Marigold are each individual and unique enough feel like believable characters despite the deliberately simple narrative style. They are also clearly perfect for each other; their developing friendship/love is sweet and delightfully funny.  Most of the characters are similarly both individual (even eccentric!) and amusing.  Ed’s gruff nature and mixed metaphors hide a very loving heart; the dogs are loyal cowards; even a maid with an eye for the lads is droll in her own way.  But the book isn’t just a comic romp; the slow unveiling of the villain’s plans (unfortunately revealed by the blurb above) lends just the right amount of tension to capture the reader’s attention.

I don’t want to spoil your fun by giving too much away.  The joy of Once Upon a Marigold  is in the details, and in Ferris’s whimsical blend of quirky comedy and fairytale villainy, courage, and sacrifice.  Do yourself a favor and read it.  Better yet, find a young friend and read it aloud – it’s that sort of book.

Recommended for: those who love fairytales, especially fans of M. M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess


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Read for the Year of Re-Reading Challenge




About Jean Ferris

This author is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects: living with a deaf parent (Of Sound Mind), facing the consequences of a criminal act (Bad), or questioning one’s sexuality (Eight Seconds). But Jean Ferris is also adept at writing comedy, historical fiction, and romance. What’s most interesting is that she didn’t publish her first novel until she was in her mid-40s. Yet she’s never forgotten the intense feelings and changes of her own teenage years. Critics as well as teen readers have seen the evidence of that in her writing and have honored her novels with a number of awards, from Best Books for Young Adults to various state and National Book Award nominations.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • A Year of Re-Reading 2014

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