The Princess in the Opal Mask
I got an unsolicited offer of a book for a review from Running Press Publicity/Perseus Books, and the book sounded kind of interesting and I’ve been trying to do a few new things, so I said yes to a copy of The Princess in the Opal Mask by Jenny Lundquist.
You’ve probably noticed that since my kids have mostly moved on from reading Young Adult fiction, I have too. But this one promised a mash-up of Cinderella with The Man in the Iron Mask, though, so I couldn’t resist. It was a good thing too—not resisting–because I put the book on my bedside table and spent a couple of nights reading much longer than I’d meant to. It’s fine storytelling, and also delivers a re-telling of The Prince and the Pauper.
I loved the name of the royal ancestor, Eleanor, and hated the name of one of the protagonists—Wilhamina, which looks to me like an ignorant misspelling of Wilhelmina rather than an interesting variant. This would not have been so distracting during my reading except for the fact that “Wilha,” as she is called, and the other protagonist, Elara, alternate telling the story by chapters, so each chapter heading identifies who is speaking by name.
Minor quibbles aside, though, the action sequences are satisfyingly quick and occasionally clever, revealing information about things like the identity of the princess in the opal mask by juxtaposition in the dialogue:
“Through a gap in between the guards I see the Masked Princess. Her jeweled mask is hanging askew, exposing half her profile. Instinctively, I begin raising a hand to cover my eyes, but stop when it strikes me that her face, feared by so many in our kingdom, reminds me of—
It’s Cordon’s voice I hear.”
Complications in love and suspicions about a character’s loyalty last only a few days, in this world:
“We know Lord Finley intended to place you on the throne,’ Lord Quinlan says. ‘What we don’t know is if you decided to join them.’
‘Absolutely not,’ I answer. ‘He never asked me to join him, and I never agreed to anything.”
The simplicity of the plot allows for a fast pace, though, like the secret tunnels the girls discover in the kingdom of Kyrenica, where they have been sent.
Elara’s romance with the prince meant for Wilha is the highlight of the second half of the story, their sparring amusing and their complete capitulation inevitable: “…his hand tightens protectively on mine. ‘If something were to happen to you…then…our kingdoms would most probably go to war’ he finishes lamely.”
In the end, the Lord who has scared and mistreated both girls is unmasked as the villain he is:
“I had thought with the king injured, with the evidence of Kyrenica’s wickedness on display for all to see, the Guardians would come to reason and cancel the treaty. But I underestimated their stupidity. They would rather believe that Lord Finley’s men were responsible, even though we had captured most of them by the time of the attack.”
The good end happily, and the bad unhappily. Elara proves herself worthy of becoming a Queen. Wilha proves herself worthy of making choices for herself. Their love interests prove themselves worthy of continuing to consort with these girls. Their abusive or absent parents become extraneous.
It’s clear that Elara, who knows what it’s like to be hungry, will be a good ruler in her adopted country of Kyrenica. It’s not so clear what will happen to the people of Galandria, where the girls grew up…except oh, there’s going to be a sequel. I hope we find out what happens to Elara’s first crush, Cordon, who seems ready to marry her evil stepsister.