“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.”
This young adult fantasy deals with the idea of identity and acceptance as both young protagonists strip away the masks they feel have been holding them back and try to find who they really are. The themes and how they are explored is typical for a fantasy novel but for the purpose of the intended age group and the overall message, it is done quite well. The two girls basically swapping places is very prince and the pauper, also the assailants behind the assassination attempt is obvious from the get go.
However, the usual perils of reading from the point of view of teenagers who think they know everything doesn’t appear to take up that much of the novel. Both Elara and Wilha actually develop as people through the course of the plot and take responsibility for what happens. Wilha in particular had an interesting story arch as her identity issues stem from a lifetime of being covered up resulting in so many insecurities which most people would have. This is probably one of the first times I have read from a princess’s point of view and empathised with her. Elara equally learns to throw away her prejudice attitudes and learn how the other half live, so to speak, as she takes up residence in a royal palace.
The characters are certainly the strong point of the book but the weaknesses are quite overwhelming as they rest in the genre of the book itself. Having kings, queens and princesses in a fantasy story is pretty standard as well as the conflict involving politics and a possible outbreak of war between nations. Nevertheless, I always ask myself a question to determine whether or not the world in which the story takes place is realistic. Why is this particular family the royal one and why does an entire nation chose to obey them? It seems too easy to say ‘this is the king’ without demonstrating why he is the king. What makes this man fit to rule? What makes people pay taxes to his throne? What keeps the civilian class from revolting? The answer to these questions concerning this book were unanswerable because there was very little world-building. The basic history of the world left so many questions and I felt disconnected with the world because it didn’t feel like there was one there in the first place. It could be seen as unreasonable that I want a clear answer to questions about the class system, education and where does everyone buy their groceries, but you don’t need paragraphs of pointless info-dumping for this to be put across; all that is needed is some hints about life in this world.
I think I can’t be too disappointed in the overall finish of this book as it was about two teenage girls who both have romantic story line but it doesn’t take over the entire plot. A book about teenage girls where their lives DO NOT completely revolve around boyfriends but who they are as people. With equal weight to pros and cons I found an easy three stars awarded to The Princess in the Opal Mask.