Review: Palace of Lies

Most people are familiar with Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine's feminist retelling of Cinderella, mostly due to the butchered movie version released by Disney/Miramax in 2004. But did you know that around the same time Ella Enchanted became popular, Margaret Peterson Haddix had released another feminist Cinderella adaptation that was every bit as exciting? Just Ella is a thrilling adventure story about Ella trying to escape the castle after the ball to avoid being used as a pawn in a wicked scheme and being forced to marry a prince she didn't love. Years later, Margaret Peterson Haddix turned the series into a trilogy, adding two more books that told equally exciting stories about princesses in the neighboring kingdom of Suala. Palace of Mirrors is a fantastic book about a girl named Cecilia who had been raised to believe that she is the true princess of Suala and journeys to the capital to reclaim her throne from the decoy princess, Desmia, who believes that she is the true princess and knows nothing of the secret plot that went on behind the girls' backs. Palace of Lies, the final book in the trilogy, is told from Desmia's perspective, which is very different from Ella or Cecilia's because unlike them, she was actually raised in the palace. Together, the three books are referred to as "The Palace Chronicles."

Palace of Lies is an adventure story about a sheltered and refined princess who had never been on an adventure being thrust into a daring journey across kingdoms and learning to trust people in the process. Unlike Gail Carson Levine's The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, which can be enjoyed by someone who has never read its predecessor, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Margaret Peterson Haddix's Palace of Lies is difficult to understand or appreciate without reading Just Ella and Palace of Mirrors first. It takes place shortly after the events of Palace of Mirrors left off and directly correlates to Just Ella. I admit it had been quite a few years since I read Palace of Mirrors and over a decade since I read Just Ella, but I remembered enough to get through the story. Princess Desmia offers a fresh perspective in this book. She was raised by an evil dictator and used as a pawn, making her cynical yet clever. Her metamorphosis into a warmer and more caring person is a pleasure to read. She does not become a completely different person by the end of the story, but she does learn to let others into her life and finally realizes that she does not always have to be alone.

Desmia is used to the finer things in life, such as glittering ballgowns, tiaras, and great feasts served upon her beck and call. However, this book offers none of those things. At the very beginning of the story, the majestic palace is burnt to the ground by an unknown attacker, and Desmia must flee for her life with nothing but the clothes on her back. She quickly realizes that most people in the kingdom do not have the same advantages that she was brought up with and must learn to stop being a spoiled princess. Desmia also discovers a family member that she never knew she had and must let others into her life for the first time, something that is very difficult for her after fourteen years of putting on airs to everyone at the palace. At first, her only ally is Cecilia, who readers know well as the protagonist from Palace of Mirrors, but Desmia quickly loses sight of Cecilia and her other princess sisters during the fire. She decides her only chance at survival is to make the difficult journey to Fidelia and seek help from Ella, the title character from Just Ella. Her palace training proves completely useless for such a journey, forcing her to depend on her newfound allies for help.

The road that lies ahead for Desmia is messy, filled with blood, ragged clothing, and scarce food. She suffers from agoraphobia at first, having never left the palace before. It takes her some time to get used to being outside during the daytime without a sheet to cover her face. Her new allies are good to her, despite how embarrassed she is to be seen in such undignified circumstances. Spending time with them makes her realize how many things she took for granted in the palace and how she had never recognized people as individuals if they were poor. It is an eye-opening experience for a sheltered princess, but it also makes her realize that when push comes to shove, she still wants to be a good person and do the right thing. Though she has trouble accepting that anyone would want to help her without an ulterior motive at first, she later finds herself doing just that.

Palace of Lies is an incredibly fast-paced fairy tale adventure story. It almost feels exhausting to travel so far with Desmia while so many things are happening at once. It's difficult to put the book down at any point for fear of not knowing what will happen next and if the many characters we met throughout the trilogy are still safe. I particularly enjoyed reading a story about a princess who was actually raised to be a princess since most stories are about princesses who marry into privilege or are treated like paupers by cruel guardians. Desmia teaches us that's possible for people to change if they truly want to and that someone who appears to be perfect on the outside might be suffering inwardly, so it's a good idea to be kind to everyone because you never know what they might be hiding from the rest of the world.


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