Review: The Princess in the Opal Mask

I received The Princess in the Opal Mask as a gift along with The Princess Curse. Of the two books, this one was far superior. It is yet another retelling of The Princess and the Pauper, which seems to be a popular trope these days, especially among movies. It works surprisingly well in book format, as it allows readers to switch between the perspectives of both main characters. We all know the story of two girls who discover they look alike and decide to switch lives for a few days. However, this was a refreshing break from the standard "princess meets someone who looks just like her and decides she wants a vacation" format. This book goes deeper than that by exploring themes like identity, family, and self-fulfillment. After a few slow opening chapters, it picks up with an exciting investigation that tests both girls to their limits.

The Princess in the Opal Mask by Jenny Lindquist

Princess Wilha has been forced to cover her face with a bejeweled mask for as long as she can remember, never knowing why. The glittering mask allows her to hide her insecure demeanor behind a submissive smile as she struggles to find her own identity. The people worship her as the masked princess, but in truth, they know nothing about who she truly is, not even what she looks like. Meanwhile, Elara is an orphan who is stuck with a cold-hearted caretaker who takes advantage of every opportunity to tell her that her parents didn't care about her enough to give her a name. She is certain that if she finds her true family, she will be able to recover her lost identity. Little does she know that the loving family she dreams of is very different from the one she was born into. Both girls trudge through the same mundane routines until one day, Wilha learns that her father has arranged for her to marry the prince of an enemy kingdom, and Elara is kidnapped and brought to the palace with no explanation. When the two girls see each other for the first time, they realize that they share the same face.

Once the princess and the pauper switch places, the book gets so exciting that it becomes difficult to put down. I wish this event had taken place earlier, as the first few chapters are rather slow. After they learn the secret behind the mask, Wilha and Elara are shipped away to the rivaling kingdom for Wilha to meet her new fiancé. Or is it Elara's new fiancé? It becomes convoluted at what point they are supposed to switch places and what point they are doing it by choice. However, each girl finds happiness and a sense of identity in the other's shoes. Wilha learns to make a living for herself outside the confines of the palace walls, and Elara learns to trust people after being mistreated her entire life. Due to her circumstances, that trust must unfortunately come in the form of a lie when she poses as the masked princess. For that reason, the romantic relationship between Elara and the prince was not as fulfilling as I hoped. Meanwhile, Wilha finds a new family when she poses as a seamstress, but she never reveals the truth to them either, and it is unclear whether or not she keeps in touch with them after the book ends.

I enjoyed this book overall, but it felt unbalanced. There was too much exposition at the beginning and not enough at the end. Elara is a jaded cynic who is reluctant to get to know Wilha. Though she grows a little, she never reaches the level of trust that I was hoping for with Wilha or the prince. I would have loved to see more growth in her relationship with Wilha, especially after how hard Wilha tried to be friends with her. Wilha has a few romantic prospects who seemed to genuinely care for her, but neither of them amounts to a satisfying relationship by the end of the book. I was so engrossed with the story by the time I reached the final chapter, that I found myself saying "That's it?" This is the type of book that needs an epilog to be fully satisfying. Before I finish nitpicking, I also want to point out how annoyed I was by the line "The mask covered my entire face, except for my chin, lips, the sides of my cheeks, and the top of my nose." That is half of your face, Wilha. There's no need to overcomplicate it.

The Princess in the Opal Mask is a refreshing take on the gender-bent "Prince and the Pauper" trope. Instead of the two doppelgangers switching places by choice, they are forced to do so and discover their true selves in the process. This isn't the first time I've read a story told that way, but the addition of the mask and the surprise ending gives it that extra something special that makes it worth reading. My only criticism is that the ending was not as satisfying as it could have been. If I could have my cake and eat it too, I would cut out the first few chapters and tack a few more on the end just to see how Elara and Wilha ended up after their unusual situation completed its course. As it stands now, I think I would rather enjoy reading a sequel. There is so much left to be explored in the lives of these two lovely heroines.

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