Our release day review for today is for Jenny Lundquist's fantastic The Princess in the Opal Mask.
It's her first YA novel, and it absolutely struck the same note that I felt when reading The Chronicles of Narnia or The Dark Materials Trilogy for the first time.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 22nd 2013 by Running Press Kids
Format read: Physical copy courtesy of publisher
Two girls, both on the cusp of adulthood, will come-of-age and learn more about themselves in Jenny Lundquist's first YA novel.
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Orphaned as a child in the crumbling village of Tulan, Elara is determined to learn her true identity, even if it means wielding a dagger. Meanwhile, in Galandria's royal capital, Princess Wilha stands out as someone to either worship or fear. Though no one knows why the king has always made her conceal her face--including Wilha herself.
When an assassination attempt threatens the peace of neighboring kingdoms, Elara and Wilha are brought face to face . . . with a chance at claiming new identities. However, with dark revelations now surfacing, both girls will need to decide if brighter futures are worth the binding risks.
So when I found out that she had written a YA novel set in a fantasy location, my reaction was something along the lines of: SIGN ME UP/TAKE MY MONEY.
Fortunately for me, Running Press Kids kindly set me an ARC, and I was immediately immersed by the beautiful world that Lundquist had created. It's a beautiful and intriguing one, where two girls will challenge their fates, take on obstacles that they could have never imagined, and find out their true strengths.
Things that worked:
One of my biggest issues with dual-narration novels, is the fact that too often, the two main characters sound exactly alike. There's not enough to differentiate between the two of them.
This is not the case with Princess in the Opal Mask. Lundquist has given Elara and Wilha two very distinctive voices and personalities. She establishes their back stories very early on, and uses those foundations to explain why they've developed the personalities that they have. From beginning to end, Lundquist also does a fantastic job of showing how their own personal obstacles, ambitions and journeys eventually lead them on the path of transitioning from being a teenager into an adult.
Without giving away too much of the story, I think that readers will absolutely be able to relate to both girls equally. Even though their personalities are fairly distinctive, readers should be able to see a little of themselves in both girls.
As for the secondary characters, they rounded out the cast perfectly. Yes, someone of them occasionally veered into typical fantasy molds, but Lundquist's writing is so enjoyable, you don't notice at all.
* The plotting
The book opens with a prologue on the origins of the a legend in the kingdom of Galandria, which sets the tone for the novel perfectly.
From then on out, Lundquist beautifully balances both the day-to-day lives of Elara and Wilha, with the more explosive moments and revelations. I could easily feel the boredom of Wilha, as she struggled to understand why she had to live a life half-hidden, or the anger of Elara, as she tried to struggle with the difficulties of her life.
The plotting and the pacing was so superb, I actually didn't anticipate one of the book's many plot twists- and that's normally something I would have seen from miles away.
* The writing/world-building
With this novel, Lundquist absolutely proves that she has the skill and versatility to write for multiple audiences. The dialogue was true to the age, true to the world, and wholly believable.
Same goes for the world-building. I would argue that one of the most difficult aspects of writing fantasy is writing a believable world with your own elements, and Lundquist does that here in spades.
* The lack of the romantic angle
While romance is hinted at in the book, it doesn't play a significant part. I loved this - this book is clearly the coming-of-age journey of two very different young women, and romance shouldn't play a significant part in self-discovery.
Things that didn't work:
I'm not a big fan of the "I'm mad at you because I love you" trope that happens all-too-often in literature, so I was a little annoyed with this character for a couple of pages.
However, this is a personal preference, so don't let it bug you. I also think the second character responded to the situation beautifully, and proves later that she has grown in leaps and bounds from that moment.
I highly recommend this book for fans of fantasy books, but also for fans who are looking for something different beyond their typical YA book. Read this. You won't regret it.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Princess in the Opal Mask from Running Press, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!