"Ooh, pretty endpapers! Oh, it's a map of the North with the places marked by fairy tales! How cute! And there are a few I don't know, even. Excellent."
"OMG a MER-GREAT-DANE! SOLD!"
And then I started the actual story, which was both excellent and unknown to me, although there were several familiar elements.
An evil wizard controls the country, taking all the resource for himself. Even the king is helpless. Our protagonist is a poor boy who, not recognizing the wizard, accepts a job feeding his animals, promising to work three years for food, and receive money at the end of the term. The wizard turns out to have caverns of animals, normal and magical (the fierce, tusky boars with the frilly little wings were my favorite). It takes all day for the boy to feed them all. But, they only get fed once a year, so for the rest of each year the wizard transforms the unfortunate boy into a different animals and sends him out of be hunted by the starving populace. Haha! That is a favorite joke in Evil Wizard circles, I guess.
In the third year, the boy is a fish, and happens upon a castle of glass at the bottom of the ocean, where the wizard keeps his daughter. Are they instantly smitten because she is lovely and he is the only guy she's ever met? No. THANK YOU FOR THAT CHRIS CONOVER! They explain their situations to one another and the princess invites the boy to stay for the remainder of the year so he doesn't get caught by fishermen. They become good friends and start wondering if there isn't some way to help all the starving people. The princess is as clever as the boy is brave, and pretty soon she comes up with a plan. It involves a feast, a jester, and a chandelier...