Google+ Bookslingers Blog: New Review: The False Princess

New Review: The False Princess

This was one of those impulse buys you make - I’m sure we all do this - when you already have an armful of books at Kidsbooks and that little voice, the one responsible for most of your more ruinous financial decisions, assures you that one more book won’t make any difference on top of the nine you’re already carrying, and after all, you should support local independent bookstores!

I call it Book Voice.

Anyway, The False Princess, by Eilis O’Neal (and how great an author name is that?), is all about Nalia, the Princess of Thorvaldor, who, in her own opinion, isn’t much of a princess.

Except the book is actually about Sinda, the daughter of a weaver who was taken as a replacement for the real princess when both girls were infants and someone predicted that Nalia would die before her sixteenth birthday; the real Nalia has been raised in seclusion under the name Orianne.

And then again it’s about Mika, who is the real real princess, who was swapped out with Nalia at the last second and has been living in a hovel all her life.

It goes like this: the royal wizard (narratively, our Grand Vizier) cast a spell on Baby Replacement Princess so that her identity would remain unknown, and that everyone would believe she was the Princess. When her parents break the news to her, the spell is lifted, and Sinda’s sent packing with a few coins for her trouble and not much of a thank you.

This part is genuinely upsetting, because hey, her parents just kicked her out with a bag of gold and told her she was being replaced with their real daughter. It’s like every terrible story older siblings tell annoying younger ones - the “you were adopted, and then Mum and Dad decided they didn’t want you, but the orphanage wouldn’t take you back” story (look, don't pretend you never did this). Except in this case, it’s true, and you spend twenty pages totally aghast at how coldly Sinda’s been cast aside. (Well done, Ms. O’Neal.) The only person who hasn’t given up on her is her childhood-best-friend-who’s-obviously-in-love-with-her, Kiernan, and he’s charmingly loyal, despite her best efforts at discouraging him.

Now-peasant Sinda, the girl formerly known as Princess Nalia, is shipped off to her aunt in the countryside to learn how to dye cloth and live like a commoner, something we actually see her having trouble doing. Sinda turns out to be terrible at all of this, in addition to discovering a dangerous magical gift which it seems the Grand Vizier’s spell had suppressed along with Sinda’s true identity. Sinda has to flee back to the city in the hopes of finding someone teach her to control her magic even though she isn't a noble and therefore legally entitled to the schooling, and meets a Kindly Old Professor type who does just that in exchange for her becoming, basically, her secretary.

Sinda, of course, is plucky and curious and clever and becomes the only hope for a kingdom in the grips of a dangerous conspiracy to usurp the throne, with only Kiernan, her replacement Nalia (formerly known as Orianne, who it turns out isn't the real princess either), and the actual princess Nalia, AKA Mika, to help her.

This book has... well, not everything I enjoy, as there were no spaceships in evidence, but most of the things: magic, conspiracy, a good strong plot, pretty sweet worldbuilding, and a clever and independent female protagonist who ultimately does all her fixing on her own. (Fun aside: all the important people in this book are female, even the bad guys! A refreshing surprise.) Plus a mind-bendy three-way shell-game of princesses and a major plot-point in the form of an evil spell and a you'll-never-guess villain switch-up that keeps you guessing pretty much all the way to the end.

If you think this sounds complicated, you’re right. It’s really complicated. But it’s also excellently written, has great characters, and despite (what I initially thought to be) a shaky start has a wonderful ending. Not quite happily-ever-after, but content-for-now-and-getting-better.