Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Princess in the Opal Mask

Hi there!  Life got you down?  What you need is the equivalent of a fluffy bathrobe and bubble bath: The Princess in the Opal Mask by Jenny Lundquist.  This was a marvelously enjoyable read that just made me feel happy.  Like a room without a roof.  Whatever that means.  You like ... getting wet?  Getting sunburned?  Bird poop?



ANYWAY.


As an orphan, Elara's life is pretty miserable.  Note to self: do not become an orphan if living in 19th century Dickensian London OR in any fantasy world ever.  Okay, yeah, the benefits in the end generally are pretty sweet (discovery by prince, Chosen One Archetype, beneficent rich person), but everything before that?  No thanks.  Her adoptive parents have taken her in solely for the money they receive from the government for her upkeep.  We all know where that money goes: straight into clothing and fripperies for their biological daughter.  Well, at least Elara's got one friend, Cordon, and he's promised her something very dear.  He also turns out to be, well.  I'll keep it clean.

On the other side of the kingdom, in the capitol city of Galandria, the people are getting ready to celebrate the birthday of the Masked Princess, Wilha.  Rumor has it that she wears the half mask because looks can kill--literally.  Or some other such horrid rumor.  When she looks at herself in the mirror, Wilha sees a rather normal looking girl.  Two eyes, a nose, a mouth, hair.  The usual suspects.  Nothing odd.  But per the King, her father, she must be masked whenever anyone looks upon her.

With some finagling and excellent acting, Elara manages to get tickets to the Princess' party in Galandria from the social worker who comes to check up on her.  Wait, on second thought, how did he have just the right amount of tickets?  And why would he have tickets?  And why did the armed guard take away Elara's teacher, just after he gave her a book from her mother and a warning?

By now you've probably guessed what's going on, especially if you've read The Man in the Iron Mask.  Elara and Wilha are twins, separated at birth by their father, who puts far too much faith in superstition and allows fear to conquer any natural love he has for his children.  Wilha, being the eldest, was named princess, while Elara was left nameless and sent away to the countryside.  Why all the hubbub, you may ask?

Well, this kingdom hasn't had a great history of twins in power.  Let's just leave it at that.

After an assassination attempt and the wounding of the King, the royal advisors capture Elara and reveal her true parentage.  The King, who is clearly gunning for the Evil Father of the Year Award here, recently betrothed Wilha to Prince Stefan of  Kyrenica.  Kyrenica is both a neighbor and an enemy, having been founded by a renegade Galandrian Princess some time ago.  Wilha believes that she is nothing, or less than nothing.  She believes the lines that she is fed about being dangerous and weak and useless.  She accepts the mask without questioning, and despite a bit of a rebellious thought, resigns herself to life in the enemy's domain, married to a man she does not know.

With the royal family seemingly under attack by foes unknown (although the King's advisers clearly wish with all their black and shriveled little hearts that it's the *Evil Neighbors*), the Men in Power (because women can't make decisions, obviously--a procedure that Elara takes on with gusto) decide to ship Wilha off to her intended ASAP.  To protect her, they'll use the disposable princess, Elara, as a decoy.

All of this happens relatively early on in the book.  I would say the whole second half is dedicated to the princesses' intrigues in Korinth, the Kyrenican capitol.  This is where a boatload of character development happens, and it's fascinating.  Elara and Wilha face off more than once, and it's really fun.  I didn't really love the plotline involving Stefan, but it's not awful.  I'm curious to see if the next book focuses on Wilha's further development into her own person.

All in all, fluffy and fun.

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