Palace of Mirrors, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, is a different sort of fairy tale. Cecilia knows she is the true princess, with all heart and all conviction, knows with complete certainty and assurance that indeed, once the danger passes from her kingdom, she will go to the palace and take from the stand-in commoner, her rightful place as princess of Suala.
As for now, and the full fourteen years of her life, she lives in a remote peasant village, so small and obsolete that it lacks placement on most kingdom maps. She lives as a simple peasant girl, fishing at the brook, leading the cow, scrubbing the pots and helping Nanny with chores, living the life of every single common girl in the country, save for the fact that Sir Stephen visits her at night to teach etiquette and algebra, strategy and Latin, all in preparation for the time in which she will rule the land.
But the enemy is closing in. Door latches are slashed, menace lurks in shadows, hiding places are no longer havens. In a night of swords and consequence, Cecilia is forced to run from her safety and her home, run towards capital with nothing but a harp, a friend, and a basket of breads. The palace and the impostor princess loom closer, and as Cecilia finds herself involved deeply with both of them, everything she has ever known, each bedtime wish of hope and magic, are thrown into question and uncertainty.
297 pages, I read Palace of Mirrors in a day, Granted, it was a ridiculously long car ride, but I was so committed to the story that I ignored the fact that I got nauseas every fifteen minutes, due to the motion and the reading. It was completely enjoyable. I got annoyed when I had to stop reading for dinner, though I wasn't in complete distress, as I sometimes am. I read it in a few sittings—it had all of the components of a perfectly great book: it was nicely written, the plot never dragged (though, because of my vast, evil experience with stories like these, I expected it to), there were new, interesting ideas introduced in almost every chapter, and the characters were endearing and pleasant. Looking at it afterwards, I give the book three and a half evilistic daggers.
It was definitely a fun read—not one for the ages, not quite as good as some of Margaret Peterson Haddix's other, stellar works, but a fun read all the same. What was cool was that the book was all about illusion. The girl with the dainty wave on the palace balcony every day may not be the "true princess" and the average peasant may be more than she seems. Or is seeming really anything? Can something as arbitrary as bloodlines really dictate who is fit to rule the kingdom? Is everything you've ever hoped for enough to risk, or should one embrace what they do, what they should have?
There were plenty of chess analogies—things like someone you thought to be the ruler is really only a pawn, and lively descriptions of cities and life and royalty. The whole setting and plotline reminded me a whole lot of Gail Carson Levine's books, except slightly less well done.
Another notable thing—Palace of Mirrors takes place in the same world as Just Ella, also by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Indeed, Ella reprises her role, this time as a friend and confidante to the "true princess," part of a peace delegation from a warring country.
Soo. Nice, crinterproodish sort of book (if you don't know what that is, check out my reviews on Toad Hill), with three and a half wicked evil daggers!
Imagining life as medieval royalty,
Princess Briar of Dreamland