Middle-school me was a big fan of Patricia Wrede, and thirty-mumble me can still see why, even if this particular book doesn’t hold up very well. It’s one of those Fantasy 101 novels, with the quest and the prince and the sorceress and the big bad and then they all live happily ever after. It’s all a bit thin, and the characters are kind of one-note, but if I had a 13-year-old niece I would totally pass this one on to her. Or nephew, I suppose (my real-life nephew is alas, not a big reader; my imaginary niece totally is).
Eltiron is a timid prince with a bully for a father. The angry king has a weasely adviser, in the classic Jafar mode. The old adviser, Jermain, was framed and ousted by the new weasel. Token princess: Crystalorn. Good and bad sorcerers: Amberglas and Caruchel. Caruchel is trying to set the whole kingdom to war for his own ends, and it’s up to everyone else to stop him.
Some things don’t hold together especially well. The kingdom prepares armies because the Hoven-Thalar nomad clan is going to attack! But wait, Jermain is good friends with the Hoven-Thalar, and they’re really just fleeing a big magical beastie. It’s never explained why the entire rest of the kingdom thinks they’re bloodthirsty fiends. The weasel adviser arranges for Eltiron’s marriage to Crystalorn, presumably with some nefarious intent, but then the two actually like each other and end up wanting to get married, and the wicked plot fizzles.
I can’t think of much else to say besides that it’s fine. It does what it sets out to do. The sorceress is a bit annoying, though. She talks like a character from Alice in Wonderland, and it gets old REAL fast. A sample:
“I believe someone is at the door,” Amberglas said. “That’s what knocking usually means, particularly knocking on a door, though not always. Unless of course you meant to ask who’s outside, in which case you really ought to learn to say what you mean. Or mean what you say, which isn’t at all the same, but frequently has the same effect.”
And she always talks like that. Exhausting. I skimmed a lot of her pages. Sorry, Patricia! This one’s a little too young on the young-adult scale.