Sherwood Smith,
A Posse of Princesses
(Norilana, 2008)

Sherwood Smith's newest well-mannered fantasy is nothing short of charming. As might be expected from the title, A Posse of Princesses is a quick and slightly fluffy read for the teenage girl crowd. Don't be put off, however: a beautifully detailed courtly world and acutely drawn characters elevate it above the standards of the genre.

Lacking the taut politics and high stakes of Smith's earlier Crown Duel, this is a simpler coming-of-age story set in a world where danger is always just a little closer than it seems. Sixteen-year-old Rhis of the small kingdom of Nym is ecstatic to be invited to her first true court function -- in urbane Vesarja, no less. Her head full of romantic ballads, Rhis is at once dazzled by the opulence of the court -- and by Prince Lios, heir to Vesarja.

Most of the other princesses are also in love with the handsome prince, but Rhis is sensible enough to admire from afar while participating in a round of courtly dinners, contests and masquerades, each accompanied by unspoken protocols and new acquaintances.

However, it's not long before Rhis discovers that even her closest new friend, the scribe Dandiar, is involved in a tangle of deceptions. And then Iardith, the snooty, beautiful princess Rhis has never liked, goes missing. Suddenly, the small intrigues Rhis has been playing at become much more serious, and idealistic ballads give way to the realities of a rescue mission with unexpected implications for everyone.

The only outright villains in A Posse of Princesses are political ambition, greed and expediency. Smith seems to delight in overturning other stereotypes, too: Rhis may be the only princess in fantasy who doesn't embrace her magical heritage. She's a likably flawed, perceptively drawn protagonist who does a great deal of growing up in the course of the book. Rhis's friends Shera and Dandiar are also well-rounded, though there are so many characters at the court that many of them remain little more than a quickly forgotten name.

Given the sheer quantity of kingdoms and diversity of cultures, the absence of a map is conspicuous and a little disappointing. The pacing, too, can be a bit off; most of the action takes place in the second half of the book, which is noticeably different in tone and content from the first half. But A Posse of Princesses remains an enjoyable and intelligent romantic fantasy. Fans of Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine should snap this one up and clamour for more.

review by
Jennifer Mo

5 April 2008

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