So, to be honest, I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy this going in. The cartoony cover made think this was for a very young audience and kind of turned me off. But the author seemed like such an awesome person that I HAD to buy this just to support him. Now I want to buy the rest of the books in this series to support more of these books (and because I really want to read them!)
The Stepsister Scheme centers on Danielle Whitestone, or, as you may know her Cinderella. Life sure does seem to be progressing Happily Ever After enough for her. She just can't believe she's not still a servant to her spoiled stepsisters and cruel stepmother and instead married to the gorgeous and loving prince, with servants to wait on her for a change. Of course Danielle's happiness soon hits a stumbling block when her stepsister shows up to try to assassinate her. Seems the gruesome twosome have gotten their hands on some powerful magic and used it to kidnap Prince Armand. Luckily the queen has a crack squad of secret agents to send to rescue him: Princesses Erminilla and Talia, or as they're also known as, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The three princesses set out to Fairytown to rescue the Prince or die trying.
The first interesting thing Hines does here is to go back to some of the older, darker versions of the tales. Sleeping Beauty was raped by her prince and only woke when she gave birth to twins. It is Snow's own mother who tried to kill her, not a "wicked stepmother". These are definitely not kiddy tales.
Secondly, although Danielle can at times be almost exasperatingly meek and goody-two-shoes nice, she does grow into a more assertive person who's willing to defend herself and even kill if it is absolutely necessary. She also isn't completely helpless, as she has both a magical sword and the ability to talk to animals. Danielle is also nicely contrasted with Talia who is harsh, dour, and violent. Talia will do and has done whatever it takes to survive, and she doesn't like leaving enemies behind to come after them later. Then there's Snow. She's pragmatic, a cheerfully enthusiastic flirt and sensation seeker. She's also a highly accomplished sorceress, and much less willing to forgive and forget than Danielle. These are not cookie cutter "Strong Female Characters" like you often see. And there's more: Danielle is happily married to her One True Love (when was the last time you saw the married protagonist of an adventure or fantasy book?), Snow flirts with any guy that moves and lived with the huntsman who spared her life, and Talia is either bisexual or homosexual. How often do you see that?
Thirdly, Hines gave us a fun world to play in. All the fairy tale creatures can live here. All the legends can find a version of themselves. Little Red Riding Hood is an assassin. There are goblins and gnomes, trolls and flying horses, magic mirrors and pixie pubs.
So. Definitely not for the wee ones, but if you like fairy tale retellings (such as McKinley's work) or adventure or girls learning to work together to save the day, I think you'll like this series.