Annotation: All of her life, Nalia, heir to the throne in the kingdom of Thorvaldor, has been preparing to become queen some day. Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, however, she is stunned to learn the truth: she is not a princess, but rather a stand-in to protect the real Nalia who was sent away for protection after a prophesy warned of her murder. Now Nalia has returned, and the false princess, whose real name is Sinda, is sent away from the palace to make her own way in the world.
Personal thoughts: I love a good fairy tale, so it was easy for me to like The False Princess with all of its magic, sword-fighting, princesses, and adventure. It’s not difficult to understand why this novel has received the accolades it has: it is well-written, very age-appropriate, and entertaining. I would have no trouble recommending this title to tween or teen girls who are in the mood for something with a medieval flavor. I look forward to seeing what else Eilis O’Neal publishes in the future.
Plot summary: The prospect of becoming queen someday has always frightened Nalia, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Thorvaldor. Having spent her life in the lush palace in the capital city of Vivaskari, Nalia feels more comfortable in the library enjoying a good book or with her best friend, Kiernan, than learning the skills necessary to be a proper princess. Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, however, Nalia’s life changes forever when she learns the truth: she is not a princess, but only a stand-in meant to keep the real Nalia safe from a prophesy that warned of a possible murder attempt on the real princess before she turned sixteen. Now the true heir to the throne is returning, and there is no need for the false Nalia, who also learns that her real name is Sinda, an orphan who’s only living relative is an aunt who works as a dyer in the nearby village of Treb. Forced to leave the only home she has ever known, and Kiernan, Sinda moves to Treb and discovers that her royal education does little to help her get by in life as a commoner. Fortunately, Sinda makes another startling discovery: her real mother, like many in the kingdom of Thorvaldor, was sorceress, and Sinda herself has magical powers. Determined to reunite with Kiernan and make a name for herself beyond the title of false princess, Sinda returns to Vivaskari and begins to apprentice with Philantha, a kind but eccentric sorceress. What Sinda doesn’t expect upon returning to her old town, however, is that there might be more to the story of her former life as princess than she realized.
Review: The False Princess, the first novel written by author Eilis O’Neal, is perfect for readers with fond childhood memories of fairy tales who want to read something with a bit more romance, action, and adventure. Set in the magical land of Thorvaldor, one of the biggest strengths of the story is the author’s skills at world-building. A lot of creativity is evident in her creation of place names, the history of the kingdom, and the mythology of the characters and events. A lot of factors play a role in the plot, but the effort taken to make the reader understand and care about Sinda, Kiernan and the Thorvaldor monarchy is very well concealed. The story is constructed effortlessly, making for a smooth, easily enjoyed fantasy adventure. The character of Sinda is likable and relatable, particularly after she is given the heave-ho once the true Nalia returns to the palace. Readers will sympathize with what she is going through and her actions, both good and bad, work well in the context of her experiences. The supporting characters are also very well-written, including Sinda’s best friend Kiernan and the goofy but lovable sorceress Philantha. Overall, there is much to enjoy in The False Princess and it would be highly recommendable to tween and teen girls who want a more age-appropriate fairy tale than Cinderella.
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Entwined by Heather Dixon, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting.
Themes: Royalty, prophesy, conspiracy, magic, wizards, sorcery, loyalty.
Awards/Reviews: 2011 YALSA Teen’s Top Ten Awards nominee, 2012 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, 2011 ABC New Voices selection, 2011 ABC Best Books for Children selection, starred review from School Library Journal, positive review from Publishers Weekly.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:- How would you have felt if you were Nalia when she learned she wasn’t the true princess?
- Why do you think Sinda’s Aunt Varil was so hard on her?
- Do you think it was wise for Sinda to return to Vivaskari? Why or why not?
- How does Sinda’s efforts to get into the Wizard College similar to students in today’s society trying to get into a university? Were there other parallels in the novel to our society?
- Do you think the spell Sinda cast on Kiernan was the right thing to do? Why or why not?
- Do you think Mika will be able to do what she promised in regards to improving things in Thorvaldor?