In Once Upon Stilettos, the second book in the Enchanted series by Shanna Swendson, Katie Chandler and MSI, Inc. deal with the aftermath of the final conflict in Enchanted, Inc. as new problems keep arising. When it appears that espionage in Research & Development was an inside job, suspicion and accusations explode throughout MSI. The CEO assigns Katie to track down the traitor, which she must do while handling an unexpected visit from her parents and struggling with her fading immunity.
Character development for good or ill
Katie develops more as a character throughout this book. We learn a lot more of her background when her parents visit for Thanksgiving, and we get to know her personality better as she interacts with her coworkers and roommates. As Katie deals, often poorly, with new challenges, her actions and motivations are believable, but I don’t like Katie as much in this volume of the series. When I found myself wanting to shake her every few pages, it was harder to sympathize with the problems she experienced as a result of her decisions.
Fortunately, my wish from Enchanted, Inc. comes true in Once Upon Stilettos: the interesting minor characters get further development as well, and many of them are delightful. Unfortunately, we don’t see as much of one of my favorite side characters, Sam the security gargoyle, but we do get further background on nearly the entire supporting cast, including Katie’s wizard crush Owen, other coworkers, her roommates from Texas, and even her parents. We also get to know our recurring villain, Idris, a little better as he harasses Katie.
Speaking of Owen, as Katie’s crush deepens, I find myself more understanding of her fascination with him. In Enchanted, Inc., he was just shy and cute, but he develops into a more rounded and very lovable character who puts me in mind of a magical Mr. Darcy. I certainly understand and approve of her attraction to him.
However, I don’t approve of her decisions involving him. As Enchanted, Inc. ends, we see hints of a relationship developing with a different man, and as Once Upon Stilettos opens, Katie is actively pursuing this relationship while still daydreaming longingly about Owen. It isn’t fair to the other man and it isn’t fair to Katie for her to date him when she clearly has feelings for someone else.
In terms of story, Once Upon Stilettos felt weaker to me than Enchanted, Inc. Katie spent a lot of time running in circles, the pace is slower, and the mundane encroaches on the fantastic. It felt like the main plot of this book could have simply been summarized as a prologue to the next book, but then we would have missed out on all the character development.
That’s not to say this book is not worth reading. Though this book is the weaker link between Enchanted, Inc. and Damsel Under Stress, I still enjoyed it for its own merit and the many delightful moments it had. The humorously disastrous dates continue, Katie runs into her old boss Mimi and her fiancee, MSI develops a “Secret Santa” program to boost morale, and there is even a nod to my favorite old fairy tale, Cinderella. Questions are answered and more questions raised. An observant reader may be able to recall a tidbit from Enchanted, Inc. which, combined with a few sly hints dropped in Once Upon Stilettos, holds the key to one of the big revelations.
Why should you read this book?
Despite the slower plot, this volume was written well with an engaging voice, skillful foreshadowing, and surprising yet inevitable twists. While I did find the overall story in this sequel less compelling than Enchanted, Inc., this was still a good installment in a wonderful series. If you loved Katie, Owen, Rod, and the rest as much as I did, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.