The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal
Goodreads: The False Princess
Summary: Upon the birth of the new princess, the Oracle prophesied that the girl might die before her sixteenth birthday. To prevent that fate, her parents smuggled the child out of the palace and replaced her with another. Sinda never knew that she was not really the heir to the throne until the day when the danger of the prophecy’s fulfillment passed—and she was thrown out of court. She struggles to accept her new life and to find meaning in the years she spent as the false princess. Most seem to have forgotten her and her unwitting sacrifice to stand in to be killed for another. When danger threatens the kingdom, however, Sinda may prove that she is still a force to be reckoned with.
Review: O’Neal’s book is crammed with intrigue, adventure, and mystery. The action seldom flags from the first page and readers will find themselves swept up into the story as they struggle with Sinda to understand the cruelty of the monarchs and the purpose of her life. Sinda’s voice helps immerse the readers. Though raised as a princess, she sounds like an ordinary girl unwillingly thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Readers will relate to her anger, fear, and confusion as she navigates her new circumstance, and they will cheer her on even when she makes mistakes.
Vivid characters bring the story to life. From Sinda’s prankster friend Kiernan to her eccentric tutor Philantha, the pages are populated with interesting personalities who are always so much more than they first appear. Even characters with whom readers do not get to spend a lot of time show three-dimensionality. The monarchs, for example, seem kind, but readers must also reflect that they chose to substitute an innocent child for their own in expectations that that child might be assassinated. Their unthinking treatment of those in lower social classes becomes more and more apparent to Sinda as she travels the realm and meets its people for the first time.
Though Sinda can find plenty of information with which to accuse the ruling class, she herself remains far from perfect. Another character charges her at one point of accepting her fate too willingly. Sinda takes that criticism as license to do from that point as she pleases. In an attempt to prove that she is more than a castaway princess, she alienates her friends, keeps secrets from those who love her, refuses to listen to good advice, and ultimately gets to a point where she takes away the free will of another—all because she has to have things her own way.
The book never addresses the moral implications of these choices. A few unfortunate consequences result, but nothing as bad as readers might have expected. Furthermore, Sinda only feels a little guilty for her actions. She never really acknowledges to herself that what she did was terribly, terribly wrong. She is only worried that she might have injured someone’s feelings or perhaps placed them in danger. Realistically, her decisions should have had greater impact and she should have been forced to recognize the grave responsibility she has for her actions.
Fortunately, Sinda does have her redeeming moments. She knows at least that she has to move on from her old life and from the bitterness she feels toward the king and queen. Her feelings were always understandable, even when they led her to do silly things, but her decision to start anew gives the book a nice sense of closure. And, of course, the fact that the readers even care so much about what Sinda does is testimony how sympathetic and likable a character she really is.
O’Neal expertly balances action and emotion in this gripping read. Romance, mystery, and danger all combine to form story perfect for those who want to lose themselves in a magical world.