Haddix continues the series that began with the alternate “Cinderella” Just Ella (1999) with a story about a different princess.
Princess Desmia, raised as the true princess of Suala, now rules with 12 other princesses, each raised similarly and separately. When a fire destroys their palace, apparently killing most of the other princesses, Desmia finds herself in the clutches of the evil Madame Bisset. Escaping, she finds her true sister, Janelia, along with a troupe of ragged boys who look to Janelia as their Mam. Desmia decides she must somehow travel to neighboring Fridesia to find friends Ella and Jeb, so with Janelia and two boys, Herk and Tog, she sets out surreptitiously across an open landscape that terrifies the sheltered young woman. Desmia strives to conquer her fears and to quell the princess training that constantly tells her she’s superior, gradually coming to see her new friends as equals. Finally arriving at the Fridesian palace, she meets the terminally handsome but reputedly stupid Prince Charming, whom she must convince of the truth of her tale. Haddix keeps the plot suspenseful even as she delves into Desmia’s new insights, providing plenty of entertainment along with some advice for life. Readers who enjoyed the earlier books will find plenty to like here, as the book even adds a hint of romance for Desmia.
A welcome return to the Just Ella universe. (Fantasy. 12-18)