This book is an adaptation of two fairy tales called “Scurvyhead” and “Sir Goldenhair”, which both feature a young man named Petit Jean, who goes out into the world to make his fortune. Here, we have young Duncan, who realizes one day that he does not have to put up with the constant beatings from his father, and simply leaves one morning.
He’s found the next day, having spent the night in a bush, by Dame Groach, and as one could expect from someone with that kind of name in a fairy tale, she’s a witch. She sets Duncan to the task of caring for her overgrown garden, with the simple stipulation that he must never enter the door under the stairs. Being a witch, she naturally wants him to enter that door, but Duncan is honest, and a hard worker, and it takes him a while to give into her tricks. When he finally does, he finds a fountain in the basement under the stairs. Thinking only to take a quick drink to quench his thirst, he accidentally gets his hair in the water, which turns it to gold.
He immediately realizes that the witch will be after him, and flees. Have I mentioned he’s been making friends with the talking horse in the stables that he’s supposed to have been beating everyday? Well, Wildfire, for some reason, knows that they will be safe from Groach if they can get to Merediana – the kingdom to the south. So they head there, and look up an old friend of Wildfire’s, who helps Duncan learn to fight, as fortune hunters (and Dame Groach) are now after him. He takes on the identity of Sir Goldmayne for when he fights the fortune hunters.
Naturally, in the course of time, he finds himself in the capital city, where he gets a job as an undergardener at the palace. There are three princesses – Margaret, Alberta and Bellinda, and something is clearly going on with the three. Margaret is always sad, Alberta is widely believed to be taking up witchcraft, and Bellinda seems to be fending off all the suitors that are coming for Margaret. Duncan comes to Alberta’s attention, and it’s not long before he realizes that her witchcraft and general bad attitude are an act. And it’s his adventure to get to the bottom of things.
This is a really satisfying weaving together of these two tales. Duncan’s a great character, and the three princesses are so much more than you usually find of princesses in a fairy tale. Alberta especially was a lot of fun to read about. I really enjoyed this book.