An uneasy mix of school story, adventure and fairy-tale tropes, this British import hits all the expected notes—orphaned heroine, exotic setting, hidden treasure, unknown heritage and exciting events—but never quite manages to produce an engaging composition.
Heroine Sophie Smith is only slightly more fleshed-out than her friends, Delphine (part French, very stylish) and Marianne (the smart one who, of course, is not stylish and wears glasses). Orphaned at a young age, Sophie spends the majority of her time at boarding school. With only vague memories of her father, Sophie treasures the necklace he left her and hears his voice in her dreams. When the chance to visit Russia, a country that has always fascinated her, on a school trip arises unexpectedly, Sophie jumps on it. Diverted from the school’s itinerary, the three girls wind up in an isolated, dilapidated castle complete with hidden passages, loyal retainers and a real, live princess. Readers will realize much sooner than Sophie that all is not what it seems and will surely wonder at the naïveté of contemporary kids who willingly go off with a complete stranger. The uneven plot drags before taking a sharp turn into melodramatic violence. Unfortunately for readers who persevere, the ending is ultimately both unbelievable and essentially unresolved.
Considerably less than the sum of its parts, this mash-up won’t satisfy fans of fantasy or realistic fiction. (Adventure. 9-12)