I really enjoyed reading The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal. This young adult book has an unusual premise–a twist on the Cinderella story/fairy princess archetype–that is especially exciting at the beginning of the book.
YA shelves are full of books featuring girls who are raised in poverty and turn out to have been princesses all along. Their royalty simply shines through. The False Princess, though, is the opposite: in O’Neal’s story, royal blood isn’t innate. Instead, royalty can be conveyed through magic, and isn’t naturally in the blood. It’s a great way to come at a tried and true–perhaps too tried and true–kind of storyline. The False Princess is O’Neal’s debut in YA fiction, which I wouldn’t have guessed; she has a sure touch, a suspenseful way with the plot, and creates the fantasy world of Thorvaldor with thoroughness.
The first third of The False Princess is the best, as we meet young princess Nalia and then find out she’s not really the real princess: she’s a changeling called Sinda. The real Nalia’s been hidden away for her own safety, and Sinda’s been a substitute princess, unknowingly, her whole life. Thrust out into the real world, practically friendless, Sinda has to make her own way. Even though she’s not a princess anymore, becoming a commoner lets her tap into the magic powers that were hers by right all along and, perhaps, even find love along the way. Sinda is a great character and the most well drawn. Kiernan, her dear friend, is a good love interest, and the book’s assorted magicians make decent villains.
Ultimately, though, it’s hard for the rest of The False Princess to live up to the beginning premise. This is not so much a fault of the end of the book, in my opinion, as it is a consequence of beginning in such a unique, exciting way. It seems hard to follow up and finish out such an interesting approach to the princess storyline. Overall, though, The False Princess is well worth reading for the enjoyment of its premise and its skillful conclusion. I look forward to seeing what O’Neal does next.
Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by EgmontUSA. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.