A princess requests and receives a country for her 13th birthday.
With her very own country, Princess Juniper will be able to interact with others in informal, casual ways—kind of. She gathers kids to journey to her “brand-new kingdom,” where she’ll be queen and they’ll be her subjects. But instead of their scheduled departure, the kids are rushed off the palace grounds at night, hearing distant battle sounds and directed by the king to a place on no map. The hidden basin in the mountains is idyllic, with a waterfall, fruit trees, and bedrooms carved in the rock. Juniper loses her rule—for withholding information about the war back at home—and mounts an exciting scheme to recover it. However, this text isn’t anti-royalist: the other kids are her “friends” and “family” but still her “subjects”; and if a ruler’s heart is in the right place, it’s fine to demand heaps of work (and work itself is romanticized). Luxuries (“silks and scarves and paints and powders”) and sumptuous meals (“crispy cheese sticks”; “fresh sage griddle cakes topped with sweet butter and honey syrup”) evoke stories from a bygone era. Unfortunately, matching that old-fashioned sensibility is a “notoriously secretive tribe” of “obscure origin and uncertain habitation” and “wildness”—a stereotypical, Romany-esque portrayal regrettably poised for a larger role in the sequel.
Despite a sense of playacting, this is a gently adventurous and luxuriously detailed romp. (Fantasy. 8-11)