Tor hardcover - Copyright 2005
Cover art by John Jude Palencar
Book reviewed January 2009
Rating: 8/10 (Highly Recommended)
Review by Amy Peterson
Interview with author Paul Park
Miranda is a teenager in a small town in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. As a child she was adopted from Romania. Even though she has a handful of items that came with her from Romania - including a leather-bound book, ancient coins, and a bracelet of gold beads - Miranda knows almost nothing about her past. And what she thinks she remembers, such as her aunt dressed in fox furs and a castle by the sea, seems unreal. Miranda doesn't know that she's a lost princess.
In the summer, when her best friend Andromeda is away, Miranda find herself talking with Peter Gross. He is slightly older boy with a crippled arm who knows pathways through the local woods. Miranda shows him her Romanian things. Peter has never been within Miranda's circle of friends, and when school starts Miranda ignores him.
Miranda hangs out with her more dynamic friend Andromeda. Unwisely she begins carrying her Romanian things in her backpack. After there is a fire at school, Miranda enlists the help of Andromeda, and after some consideration, Peter, to sneak into the school late at night to retrieve her backpack. Miranda can't stand the thought of losing her Romanian items.
Miranda doesn't know that her Romanian book, The Essential History, is one of only two copies, and that it's special. She vaguely recalls being told by her aunt to keep it safe. Was her aunt the old lady she saw in a dream who told her someone was trying to hurt her? The book was created by Miranda's aunt Aegypta Schenck to hide Miranda in another world, in our world.
After Miranda's book is destroyed, Miranda, Andromeda, and Peter find themselves in winter in a seemingly prehistoric North America. It's another world with a different history, where the USA doesn't exist, England was destroyed by an earthquake, and Roumania is a world power. It's the real world. It seems that our world was merely in Miranda's book. All of them are physically changed by the transition, Andromeda most of all. Their allies are few and unprepared, and their enemies are unknown and plentiful. Miranda worries that she dragged her friends into this mess, but gradually learns that they were always involved only didn't know it.
The other copy of The Essential History was found in a Gypsy pawnshop in Bucharest by The Baroness Nicola Ceausescu. (Note the deliberate similarly of her name to totalitarian Romanian leader Nicolae Ceauşescu who was overthrown in a bloody revolution in 1989.) The book, which was in a footlocker belonging to Miranda's aunt, contained clues to Miranda's whereabouts. The Baroness confronts Aegypta Schenck seeking a reward or at least gratitude for finding the book. The Baroness is a widow, who is a still beautiful, former actress. Her rich husband, the Baron of Cluj, died years before and her resources and status are dwindling. Aegypta Schenck claims the book is not that important, and tells the Baroness she'll never find Miranda. The Baroness Nicola Ceausescu figures that locating Miranda could only improve her situation. The Baroness is capricious and unscrupulous, but in many ways is an even more fascinating character than Miranda. Much of the book follows Nicola Ceausescu's misadventures and misdeeds.
Also seeking Miranda is the German Elector of Ratisbon, who wants his country to take over Roumania. He is a powerful man with an ugly, smallpox-scarred face. He seeks to control Miranda, to keep her from becoming a rallying force for Roumania. As a baby, Miranda was smuggled out of Germany. The Elector still holds Miranda's mother, who sabotaged his earlier invasion plans. Also he seeks a green gem of unusual powers which the Baroness secretly holds. The Elector considers himself a scientist, but he is also a conjurer, which is a crime in Germany.
A Princess of Roumania is a dark, intricately detailed fantasy. Few things about it are straightforward or predictable. Miranda faces challenges, not easily overcome roadblocks. Her friends, Peter and Andromeda, encounter life-threatening situations. Miranda is forced to make decisions. The political situation in this otherworld, which is the real world, is deadly and complex.
There are various types of magic, and the magic doesn't always work as planned. Dreams may be real and have real consequences. The dead can be contacted using a Ouija board. Spirit animals and illusions can lead characters dangerously astray.The book concludes with an exciting confrontation, but there are more issues to be resolved. There are three more Roumania books: The Tourmaline, The White Tyger, and The Hidden World. I look forward to reading more in this imaginative series.
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|Copyright © 2009 Amy Peterson|