In this YA fantasy novel, the first in a planned series, an impulsive, spoiled young princess begins maturing into a wise, responsible ruler.
It’s Princess Melania Abigail Alice Grace’s 13th birthday, which should be a happy occasion, but Maagy (as she’s called) pouts and throws tantrums so much that she’s sent to her room. With Maagy’s mother long dead, King Henry—who loves his daughter and appreciates her good qualities—realizes he must do something to help her grow up and earn her throne someday. He sends her to Whitmore Castle for the summer, where she enjoys exploring the enormous edifice, with its many amenities and mysterious locked doors. At first she’s dismayed by having to perform chores—milking cows, mucking out stables, mending clothes—but soon she’s cheerfully rising early, feeling proud of her new skills. In town for the League of Kingdoms summit, the handsome Prince Rudolpho of Estadore, called Rudy, 17, makes Maagy feel giddy. Luckily, he’s kind, sweet, and likes her flares of temper: “You’re all spit and vinegar. I like people who speak up for themselves.” At the summit, Maagy learns much about geopolitics, diplomacy, negotiation, and queenly duties, and also discovers some interesting features of Whitmore Castle, like an appearing/disappearing toy shop. Finally, she attends school incognito, where she develops leadership. Perhaps the strongest fantasy element in this debut novel by Stringer (Can You Hear Them Crying?, 1994) is how quickly the spoiled princess takes to executing chores, appreciating others, and being ordinary. At times, this seems more like wish fulfillment for parents than for adolescents. Still, Maagy’s curiosity and willingness to learn from mistakes make her an appealing heroine, and the castle remains intriguing. But the plot is imperfectly paced; the novel continues well after the seemingly climactic summit, then ends rather abruptly. Stringer makes some odd choices: why give fantasy names to countries (for example, Franciné, Adriaca) but real ones for languages (Hebrew, Latin, Greek)? The author’s ellipses-heavy style is irritating (“people touching her…showing her affection…or running toward her and laughing…or speaking”), as are the many intrusive asterisks for unfamiliar words (a glossary is included).
An uneven coming-of-age tale with an engaging heroine.