After 17-year-old Fortunata’s mother dies, her shoemaker father, once a master of the art, produces such horrible shoes that he becomes a laughingstock. After angering the powerful and cruel Captain Niccolo, Fortunata decides that it might be best for her and her father to relocate. However, they are waylaid by a nasty piece of work named Ubaldo, who makes Fortunata tell faux fortunes – and eventually he drags her to the land of Domo, whose Prince Leonato can’t ascend the throne until he rescues a princess in distress, and a fortune-teller is needed to find that princess for him.
Under duress, Fortunata makes up a wild fortune about a witch and a shoe and a captive princess in the town of Sirenza – and strangely, as she journeys with Prince Leonato on what should have been a wild goose chase, all the elements come more or less true. And as she and the prince become close, Fortunata is filled with anguish at both the thought of all her lies and at the prospect of her prince marrying that princess in distress.
There are many fairy tale elements woven into this story, from the Shoemaker and the Elves to Cinderella to Rapunzel, and this, plus the Italian-esque setting, makes this story feel very familiar – I thought of The Rope Maker by Lloyd Alexander and several of Donna Jo Napoli’s books. The action moves along quickly, although the two very different sections – Fortunata’s life as a traveling fortune-teller and her almost madcap adventures with Prince Leonato trying to fulfill his quest – seem to come from two different books.
Overall, the tone of the book was somewhat uneven. Sometimes goofy (those bumblebee shoes), sometimes horrifying (Ubaldo’s brutality), and sometimes romantic (although just barely), this tale never quite gelled for me into a completely satisfying fantasy. The fantasy elements don’t always make sense (how on earth did Fortunata’s silly fortune come true?) and characters turn up willy-nilly in various towns, even ones that are two weeks of hard travel distant from one another. I didn’t buy Fortunata as an even half-way convincing fortune-teller (an opinion with which she herself would no doubt concur) and it is downright ridiculous that anyone else would, especially the sweet Prince Leonato, even full of hope as he is.
In the end, this is a light diversion of a fairy tale fantasy that will entertain readers for an afternoon or two but won’t leave much of a lasting impression. For readers ages 11 to 14.