A Princess of Roumania Paperback – Jul 6 2007
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What is particularly remarkable is how Park takes some very familiar tropes (an adopted child from a magical world, tokens that are clues to her identity, warring conjurers) and shines them to such lustre that they seem not just fresh but entirely new.
The author's greatest feat is the way in which all of the characters appear as rich and interesting people -- even those who occupy the positions of villians. Baroness Ceausescu is identified by the narrative early on as "evil" yet the story itself resists such easy definitions. She has emerged, by the end, as a complex and vital character.
Much of the latter half of this wonderful novel takes place in a sort of alternate Europe and concerns a conflict between Roumania and Germany. In this conflict, a mess of betrayals, plots and diplomacy, there are also no stock villains.
All this, and I haven't even talked about about the three protaginists of the story. Many writers who do not normally write for young audiences fail to get the voices and emotions of teenage characters correct, but not Paul Park. As the lives of Miranda, Peter and Andromeda get more and more complicated by their translation into the magical world of the story, their personalities stay grounded and believable. Even when Peter and Andromeda begin to manifest new (perhaps "true") personalities as the Chevalier Pieter de Graz and war hero Sacha Prochenko, they still ring true as real teens in unreal situations.
However, I don't mean to suggest that this is solely a teen novel. It's dark and the politics are complex. I'd recommend this for those (of any age) who are ready for more meat than Harry Potter. It ought also to appeal to those who appreciate Neil Gaiman's _American Gods_ or Jonathan Carroll's _The Bones of the Moon_. It's complex, beautiful, magical and cool.
Too bad we're going to have to wait for the sequel.
After reading it, I can see what the critics loved about it, I suppose. It does exude a "different" sort of atmosphere - nothing is ever exactly as you'd expect. And yet...it is. There were many moments and aspects of the story that reminded me of other books I'd read, but it still had an atmosphere all its own. Here's a quick description, and really illustrates what I mean:
A teenager is brought to another fantasy world...based upon on our world, where England was overcome by a tidal wave and other countries - Germany - are dominant. She discovers she's the princess of an enslaved country...a POLITICALLY enslaved country - there's no true "villains" here, no smoke and chains, and only the girl and her family are truly in danger. Two friends from her own world came to this new world with her - a boy whose presence leads to many Tense Kiss-Me-Or-Not moments...but most often "not" because of a surprising...THING about one of his hands. Her other friend is a girl...who also goes through a surprising change that I won't spoil. Her allies in this new world are loyal to her aunt and family...and of the two, one doesn't last past one chapter, and the other is a coward, plain and simple. The main "villain" in the story is a woman who does some truly evil things...and cries about them afterward, and feeds herself anger to overwhelm any compassion she feels for her "victims."
Narration-wise, it was refreshingly adult for a teenage fantasy book. Just before you get tired of the whiny teenage characters, something happens and/or they do something surprisingly adult, and you're reminded once again that this book is truly a thing of its own.
I could go on for a while, but I think you get the basic point - overall, the story is pretty predictable, but still enjoyable to read because things are just "different." In the end, this is still the basic teenage fantasy dish, but the ingredients inside it are so different it's probably worth taking a bite anyway.
I've a theory, which I suspect is hardly original to me, that the magic in really good children's fantasy draws its resonance from a child's perception of what it must be like to be grown up. When you're a child or a pre-adolescent, the adult world seems an attractive and terrifying place. Adults have power, but are driven by forces and desires that a child can only dimly understand; wild magic. Thus, for example, when Susan rides with the daughters of the moon and the Wild Hunt in Alan Garner's The Moon of Gomrath, she's glimpsing for a moment what it will be like to be a woman. In contrast, the magic in mediocre children's fantasy is all too often domesticated, rationalized, and stripped of its real force. A Princess of Roumania seems to me to be an oblique rejoinder to the kind of children's fantasy in which magic is under control, in which the child goes home. There's no returning for Miranda Popescu; her entire world (our world) turns out to be an elaborate fiction, a shelter from reality that quite literally disappears in a puff of smoke. She and her friends are propelled, only half grown-up into the world of adulthood, of complex responsibilities and obligations. A world where magic exists, but isn't really understood, where adults lay complicated plans, but don't know what they're doing most of the time. In most fantasy, the hero or heroine is fulfilling a plot, a prophecy, a pre-ordained destiny - at the pivotal moment in A Princess, Miranda refuses the path that has been laid out for her, and the power of adults to decide what to do with her life, instead deciding herself. All this, and the Baroness Nicola Ceausescu, perhaps the most wonderfully described, and sympathetic villainess that I've ever seen in a YA book. I can't say more than to reiterate that the book is a delight.
Never predictable and always intriguing, "A Princess of Rumania" is a most unusual coming of age story where a normal high school girl's life is turned upside down when she finds herself suddenly thrust into an alternate reality where she is a legend come to life. A short description of the plot can't begin to describe the vividly drawn, complex characters and richly imagined world that Paul Park has created in this remarkable alternate history. It's a charming, compelling, and surprising work that is destined to become a classic.