fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Paul Park A Princess of RoumaniaA Princess of Roumania by Paul Park

When I was a preteen, I was a sucker for books about everyday, average girls who turned out to be long-lost princesses of some obscure country or other. A Princess of Roumania is an original take on that old trope, looking at that girlish fantasy from a couple of new angles.

The story begins during a typical summer vacation for high-school student Miranda Popescu. She’s an average teenage girl in every way, except that she has hazy memories of an early childhood in a distant land and a handful of objects that seem to corroborate those memories. At this point in the novel, no one but Miranda really believes it, and Paul Park uses these chapters to explore her teenage alienation and how it relates to her dreams of Roumania. After all, that’s what the fantasy was really about when we were young girls, right? On its deepest level, it was about not feeling at home in our surroundings and imagining an alternate life that would have made it all make sense.

Except, for Miranda, it’s actually true. Yet Park doesn’t take the clichéd route here, either. Being royalty, in Park’s world, isn’t just about tiaras and dresses and dazzling suitors. It’s about intrigue, and being used as a symbol by people who don’t care about you as a person, and sometimes it’s about running for your life.

Paul Park has obviously been influenced by Philip Pullman’s His DarK Materials trilogy. This is especially evident in the theme of parallel universes, the way he deals with spirit animals (they don’t walk beside you the way Pullman’s daemons do, but they’re significant in a way that might be spoilery to explain), and in the villainess, Nicola Ceausescu. (Her name is similar to the real-life figure for a reason. That also might be spoilery to explain.)

Mentioning Nicola Ceausescu brings me to the aspect of A Princess of Roumania that I liked best: Characterization. Ceausescu is gloriously complicated: arrogant and self-loathing, crafty and impulsive, inclined to cruelty but racked by guilt afterward. Miranda, too, is a delightful character. She grows tremendously throughout the story as a result of her tribulations. All of the other major characters are fascinating as well. They have contradictions and hypocrisies and weaknesses just like flesh-and-blood people and are among the most complex fantasy characters I’ve encountered.

When I think of A Princess of Roumania as a character-building novel, it’s a smashing success. Plot-wise, however, I was slightly disappointed. The story seems to drag in places, and it’s also too obviously the first book in a series. In many ways, Miranda’s journey has only just begun at the end of A Princess of Roumania. But from the perspective of characterization, it all works. Incidents that don’t seem to matter much to the overarching plot are very significant in shaping Miranda’s personality and preparing her for what lies ahead.

The prose is elegant but never heavy or overwritten. Park is good at describing a scene or an emotion without pouring on the purple.

I recommend A Princess of Roumania, with the caveats that it’s a little slow in places and it doesn’t stand on its own. It sets the scene well for Park’s later books and gives us a vivid cast of characters to love and hate.

The Roumanian Quartet — (2005-2008) Young adult. Publisher: A girlish daydream becomes all too real in this masterpiece of contemporary fantasy. This is a truly magical tale, full of strangeness, terrors and wonders. Many girls daydream that they are really a princess adopted by commoners. In the case of teenager Miranda Popescu, this is actually true. Because she is at the fulcrum of a deadly political battle between conjurers in an alternate world where ‘Roumania’ is a leading European power, Miranda was hidden by her aunt in our world, where she was adopted and raised in a quiet Massachusetts college town.

Paul Park A Princess of Roumania: 1. A Princess of Roumania 2. The Tourmaline 3. The White Tyger 4. The Hidden WorldPaul Park A Princess of Roumania: 1. A Princess of Roumania 2. The Tourmaline 3. The White Tyger 4. The Hidden WorldPaul Park A Princess of Roumania: 1. A Princess of Roumania 2. The Tourmaline 3. The White Tyger 4. The Hidden WorldPaul Park A Princess of Roumania: 1. A Princess of Roumania 2. The Tourmaline 3. The White Tyger 4. The Hidden World


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.