I originally read this series sometime between 1998 and 2003--my elementary school years--and as an elementary schooler, I thought these books were great (right up until the extremely disappointing non-ending of the series). I started to reread the series about six months, maybe a year ago, and I returned them to the library without bothering to finish reading the series. If I recall correctly, there was a line in the third book that was just so stupid that I couldn't read any more. Better to let childhood memories stay confined to childhood, I supposed. But still, I didn't want these sitting around on my shelf without ratings, so I'm finally ready to muddle through them, ruining the nostalgia as I go.
So, first book's first. I'll ignore all the issues with explaining things to characters for the benefit of the reader, even though the characters already know everything that's being explained to them. That's probably a good thing for elementary schoolers. Some of them might need everything to be as clear and straightforward as possible.
On the other hand, there's a line, and this book trampled all over it. The main character, Arianna Langely is actually the Princess of a unicorn- and talking-animal-filled wonderland called Balinor that exists on the other side of the "Gap". This is all explained within the first two or three chapters. And yet in the chapters after the reveal, there are ridiculously unsubtle hints toward what's already been revealed. There's no word for it other than annoying. Between things like "milady, I mean Ari," and "in the palace--I mean, in the house" being dropped left and right, I'm starting to wonder why a pair of adults who are so scatterbrained as to forget their cover story every two minutes are in charge of the magical princess whose safety will literally make or break the existence of the entire realm. They couldn't find someone better than that to care for this poor girl? Then again, she's obviously quite dim herself, because she never once picks up on the hints anyway.
And then we get to the main conflict of the story. The typical "rich bitch" character shows up within a few chapters, and she wants to lease Chase for a year. Chase being the magical King of the unicorns. Obviously, even Ari's pathetic guardians/foster parents are smart enough to say no to that one, right? Apparently not. They sign Chase over to the Carmichael family without Ari's consent; even when the father turns out to be an animal abuser, nobody goes to any lawyers, files any police reports, or does a damn thing. Let's take a moment to think about this one, yeah? These two servants are trusted with guarding the two most important individuals in all of Balinor, and their brilliant plan is to not only endanger Chase, but also betray Ari--the freakin' princess--in the one way that would genuinely piss her off. For their sake, I hope Ari doesn't hold grudges, or else these two morons are going to arrested for treason.
The only thing I can possibly say to put a positive spin on this is that I seem to recall enjoying some of the characters (and some of the later books' plots); I remember quite liking Lincoln and Toby (who are introduced in this book) and the Carmichael girl eventually gets bearable, I think. And there's a joke about alfalfa that made me laugh hysterically the first time I read it; it doesn't really seem funny now, but trust me, back when I was eight or so, that was an awesome joke.