It's a story you know you've heard before: an adopted girl finds out that she's really a princess. But this starting point is all that Paul Park's A Princess Of Roumania shares with that commonly told tale. Miranda Popescu is a teenage girl living in a small college town with her adoptive parents when the world as she knows it literally goes up in a puff of smoke. She wakes up to a world where the United States is an unpopulated wilderness and most of the people she encounters want to capture her as a political prisoner. She and her friends find themselves fighting for their lives, with only cryptic worlds of advice from her aunt to guide them. It is nothing like the fantasy she had in mind. All that she has from her former world are her two friends, Peter and Andromeda, but neither of them are exactly how they used to be either.
It is a work that is perhaps best described as historical fantasy. It is a world where people's animal elements can manifest themselves and whole versions of reality can be contained within books. If the laws of nature did include this kind of magic, and history had happened a little differently, we can believe that the world might have looked like this. While at its heart a fantasy, Park's work is still concerned with feeling true.
In Park's story, Roumania is meant to evoke the real Romania. It adds a sense of old-world mystique to the wondrous quality normally associated with a fantasy setting. The novel is not harmed by Park's never having visited the real-world Romania. He has used his imagination to create a world, and then mixed it with names and reputations of real people and places. The result is a dark and hostile world, full of people who would use their (not quite legal) magical talents to forcibly seize power at any cost.
One of those who would use Miranda to help achieve her own ambitions is the Baroness Ceausescu. She is the one responsible for tearing Miranda out of her old life. In many other stories the Baroness would be a simple villain, but in Park's tale she is anything but simple. Even as we are at times horrified and disgusted by her actions, she is still human. She recognizes, and is upset by, the wrong in many of her actions, but sees no other way to get what she wants. As we spend more and more time inside her head, we grow to understand her as well as, if not better than, any other character in the story.
This novel is the first in a trilogy that will follow Miranda and her friends as they unravel the layers of myth and prophecy that surround her return to Roumania. In this book, she comes to accept her new place in the world, and realizes that she can never go home again, even if she wanted to.
Any reader who likes to dive into well-thought-out worlds will be well rewarded with the chapters following Miranda's departure from modern-day New England. While it starts out like many other stories about teenage girls, with talk of friends, family, and summer vacation, A Princess of Roumania quickly diverges from this trope and presents a darker and more complex story than the reader expects. The greatest disappointment will probably be the ending, not because it is badly told, but because the story sets up so much of what is to follow. As with most first books in a trilogy, it has no choice but to leave us wanting to know the rest of the story, and thus convinces us to read the second book, and the third.
Kat Jong loves to read, write, cook, climb, and sculpt. She generally approves of most forms of creation, despite what one might assume from the number of character deaths in her stories. She is from New York City and will be living in Munich for a year starting in September. You may contact her at Katskill@gmail.com about anything except coriander.
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