Review: The Secret Princess

If you've been following my blog for a while, you probably noticed that I posted book reviews almost every week for the past couple of years. All of that started when I received the first book in Melanie Cellier's Four Kingdoms series, The Princess Companion, as a Hanukkah present from a friend. That got me started on a long-running obsession with reading every princess ebook I could get my hands on. I've read and reviewed all of her books since then and was a little disappointed when she switched from her fairy tale retellings to The Spoken Mage series. Now, the world of the Four Kingdoms is back with The Secret Princess, the first book in a new series called Return to the Four Kingdoms that takes place in the same world as her other retellings. The book features Princess Giselle, a minor character from A Crown of Snow and Ice, and it just might be the most perfect fairy tale book ever.

The Secret Princess is a retelling of the underappreciated Grimm fairy tale, "The Goose Girl." It is more loyal to the original story than other adaptations I have read and provides plenty of references to Melanie Cellier's other books. Princess Giselle was introduced as a friend to Princess Celine in A Crown of Snow and Ice, but we didn't get a true feel for her personality until now. Like all of the other princesses in the Four Kingdoms books, she is intelligent, capable, and prone to falling in love. The action kicks off right at the beginning when Giselle's ship is attacked by bandits who threaten the more vulnerable princesses traveling with her. She is determined to track them down without getting captured as well, so her handmaid Sierra suggests that they switch places to hide her identity from the bandits. After Giselle agrees to the idea, Sierra appeals to the queen and king of the kingdom where they washed up and convinces them that she is the true princess while Giselle is her maid. She casts Giselle away to become Arcadia's temporary goose girl, where the forsaken princess hides under the guise of a servant and attempts to uncover the mystery of the traitor behind the raid on her ship.

What makes this book stand out among earlier fairy tales in the series is the vibrant supporting cast of characters. It is the first book I've read by Melanie Cellier with a talking animal, which gives it the feel of a Disney movie. Giselle's horse, Arvin, is a magical gift from the High Palace of the Godmothers. She is the only one who can hear him speak, which is usually for the best. He adds plenty of comic relief to an otherwise dark story of betrayal and espionage. I couldn't help cracking a smile at almost everything Arvin said about how superior he was to other horses and how no one he encountered was worthy of riding him. This book is also the first in the series to introduce a love triangle, though it's pretty clear who Giselle is going to end up with. The love interests, Philip and Damon, are both strong brave men with lots of tantalizing secrets who aid Giselle when she gets attacked by the traitors who know her true identity.

I loved all of the references to Melanie Cellier's other Four Kingdoms books. The throwbacks provided excellent world-building and a sense of nostalgia for the setting and characters. It takes place in the kingdom of Arcadia from her first book, The Princess Companion. Princess Alyssa and Prince Max are now twelve years older and have children of their own. It was a pleasure to see how their relationship developed over the course of time and that Alyssa is still as respectful of commoners and servants as she was when she first stayed at the castle. This works very much to Giselle's advantage when she is thrown in with the servants as a goose girl. It was great to see that Giselle and Alyssa would have been friends regardless of their station and the instant bond that Giselle formed with Alyssa's son and daughter. I also enjoyed reading about Giselle's experiences herding geese as it was a task I was previously unfamiliar with.

The Secret Princess may be the best book Melanie Cellier has written yet. It combines all of the strengths of the previous Four Kingdoms books while introducing a capable new heroine and a terrific cast of characters. I loved the humor with the talking horse as well as the more serious elements. It was refreshing to return to the familiar world of Arcadia and learn about all the new adventures that took place there during the book's 12-year time gap. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves princess stories. The Secret Princess is a wonderful introduction to a lesser-known fairy tale. The next book in the series, The Mystery Princess, is currently available for pre-order, but it will be nearly a year before its release.


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