School Library Journal
A lively companion to Just Ella (S & S, 1999). Cecilia, 14, has a secret. Despite her peasant appearance, she is the true princess of Suala, hidden from birth to protect her from the conspirators who murdered her parents. To evade capture, she leaves her village with her friend Harper and heads for the capital city to claim her throne. Imagine her surprise when Desmia, the figure-head princess, reveals 11 other "true princesses" locked in the palace dungeons. Visiting from Fridesia, Ella turns up to help Desmia, Cecilia, and Harper unravel this political intrigue. Palace of Mirrors sits nicely alongside Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted (HarperCollins, 2007) and Shannon Hale's Princess Academy (Bloomsbury, 2005). Much of the humor stems from Cecilia's misconceptions, and from the wit of her friend-turned-beau, Harper. The plot will be a familiar one to genre readers, but they will happily travel it again to see Cecilia's identity unfold. The suspense builds to a well-paced climax and conclusion with few pauses in an action-packed story. While the setting is less defined than the characters and plot, readers will be too focused on the protagonist's many concerns to notice.-Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT
In this semi-sequel to 1999's Just Ella, which imagined what happens after Cinderella moves to the Prince's palace, readers meet another Cinderella-like character, this one raised to believe that she is the true princess of the realm at war with Ella's kingdom. Fourteen-year-old Cecelia lives as a commoner, hidden in a remote village and tutored by kind Sir Stephen until she can claim her throne. When danger arises, naive Cecelia decides to pursue her promised fate. The narrative slowly builds suspense mixed with comedy as Cecelia and her best friend, a boy named Harper, slog over the wet countryside to the capital city, arriving looking even more ragged than usual. Haddix isn't content with a simple solution to Cecelia's problem; she concocts several further dilemmas, gets poor Cecelia ever filthier and introduces savvy Ella on a state visit to help untangle the plot woven by the late queen. Completely unexpected results emerge. Plenty of fun here from a superior author. (Fantasy. 10-14)
From the Publisher
"Palace of Mirrors sits nicely alongside Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted and Shannon Hale's Princess Academy...The suspense builds to a well-paced climax and conclusion with few pauses in an action-packed story."School Library Journal
"Aficionados of Gail Carson Levine and Shanno Hale will find much to like in this welcome addition to the ver-growing canon of smart-princess stories."Booklist
"Haddix's skill with vivid descriptions and believable characters make this tale a standout in the retold fairy tale genre....a story that feels both familiar and fresh. It is a sure hit for those who want to cultivate their rough-and-tumble inner princess."VOYA
"Plenty of fun here from a superior author."Kirkus Reviews
"Aficionados of Gail Carson Levine and Shanno Hale will find much to like in this welcome addition to the ver-growing canon of smart-princess stories."
Read an Excerpt
Somewhere in the world I have a tiara in a little box. It is not safe for me to wear it. It is not safe for me to know where it is. It is not safe for me even to tell anyone who I really am.
But I know—I have always known. Perhaps Nanny Gratine sang my secret to me in hushed lullabies when I was a tiny, squalling creature. Perhaps Sir Stephen began his weekly visits even in my first months, and whispered into my ear when it was no bigger than an acorn, “You are the true princess. We will protect you. We will keep you safe until the evil ones are vanquished and the truth can be revealed. . . .”
I can almost picture him kneeling before my cradle, his white beard gleaming in the candlelight, his noble face almost completely hidden by the folds of a peasant’s rough, hooded cloak. This is how he always comes to visit us—in disguise.
I am in disguise too. I think if I had not known the truth about myself from the beginning, it would be hard to believe. To everyone else in the village I am just another barefoot girl who carries buckets of water from the village well, hangs her laundry on the bushes, hunts berries and mushrooms and greens in the woods. Nobody knows how I study at night, turning over the thin pages of Latin and Greek, examining the gilded pictures of kings and queens—my ancestors—as if staring could carry me into the pictures too. Sometimes, looking at the pictures, I can almost feel the silk gowns rustling around my ankles, the velvet cloaks wrapped around my shoulders, the gleaming crown perched upon my head. It is good that Nanny Gratine has no mirror in her cottage, because then I would be forced to see that none of that is real. I have patches on my dress, a holey shawl clutched over the dress, a threadbare kerchief tying back my hair. This is strange. This is wrong. What kind of princess wears rags? What kind of kingdom has to keep its own royalty hidden?
I don’t know why, but ever since I turned fourteen, questions like that have been multiplying in my mind, teeming like water bugs in the pond after a strong rain. Last night, as Sir Stephen was giving me my next reading assignment in Duties and Obligations of Royal Personages, a thought occurred to me that was so stunning and bizarre I nearly fell off my stool.
I gasped, and the words were out of my mouth before I had time to remember Rule Three of the Royal Code. (“One must consider one’s utterances carefully, as great importance is attached to every syllable that rolls from a royal’s tongue.”) Even though I know that the Great Zedronian War was started by a king who said, “Dost thou take me for a fool? Art thou a fool thyself?” when he should have hemmed and hawed and waited to speak until he could find a wiser way of expressing himself, I still blurted out without thinking, “Great galleons and grindelsporks! Are you her teacher, too?”
Sir Stephen scratched thoughtfully at his chin, setting off tremors in the lustrous curls of his beard.
“Eh? What’s that?” he said, blinking his wise old eyes at me several times before finally adding, “Whose teacher?”
Sir Stephen is entirely too good at following Rule Three of the Royal Code, even though he’s only a knight, not royalty.
But then I hesitated myself, because I’m always loath to speak the name. I stared down at my hands folded in my lap and whispered, “Desmia’s.”
Desmia is the fake princess, the one who wears my royal gowns, the one who sits on my royal throne—the one who’s saving my royal life.
Sir Stephen did not reply until I gathered the nerve to raise my head and peer back up at him again.
“And why would I be Desmia’s teacher?” he asked, raising one grizzled eyebrow. He wasn’t going to make this any easier for me than conjugating Latin verbs, solving geometry proofs, or memorizing the principle exports of Xeneton.
“Because you know how to train royalty, and—”
“She’s not royalty,” Sir Stephen said patiently.
“But she’s pretending to be, and if she has to keep up appearances, to throw off and confuse the enemy—then doesn’t she have a tutor too?”
I cannot remember when I found out about Desmia, any more than I can remember when I found out about myself. Perhaps, by my cradleside, Sir Stephen also crooned, “And don’t worry that your enemies will ever find you. They won’t even look because we’ve placed a decoy on the throne, a fake, a fraud, an impostor. If the evil ones ever try to harm Desmia, we will find them out; we will roust them. And then we can reveal your existence, and the kingdom will ring with gladness, to have its true princess back, safe and unscathed. . . .”
When I was younger I used to playact the ceremony I planned to have for the girl Desmia when the enemy was gone and the truth came to light. I’d play both roles, out in the cow pasture: kneeling and humble as Desmia, standing on the wooden fence to attain proper royal stature when I switched to playing myself.
“I, Princess Cecilia Aurora Serindia Marie, do hereby proclaim my gratitude to the commoner Desmia, for all the kingdom to see,” I’d intone solemnly, balanced on the fence rails.
Then I’d scramble down and bow low (though keeping a watch out so that neither my knees nor my forehead landed in a cowpat).
“Oh, Princess,” I’d squeak out, as Desmia. “It is I who ought to be thanking you, for allowing me the chance to serve my kingdom, to ensure your safety. I have wanted nothing more than your safe return to the throne.”
Back to the fence rail. Back to my royal proclamation voice.
“It is a fortunate ruler who has such loyal subjects. In honor of your service, I grant you a tenth of the royal treasury,” I’d say. Sometimes the reward was “land on the Calbrenian coast” or “my best knight’s hand in marriage” or “the services of your favorite dressmaker for a year.” But somehow it never sounded right. What was the proper reward for someone who had risked her life to save mine? What was the proper reward for someone who’d already gotten to wear silks and satins while I wore rags, who’d gotten to feast on every delicacy in the kingdom while I ate porridge and gruel, who’d slept in a castle while I slept on a mat on the floor? Wasn’t it reward enough that she’d gotten to live the life that was rightfully mine?
Last night, when I asked Sir Stephen if he was Desmia’s tutor too, he finally shook his head and said, “Of course I’m not Desmia’s tutor. She doesn’t need to learn the same lessons as you.”
It was a perfectly clear answer—straightforward and to the point. But it left me wanting more. Long after Sir Stephen had shifted into a lecture on the Eight Principles of Royal Governance, I was still thinking of more questions. Then who is her tutor? What lessons does she learn? And, most of all, When? When will we trade lives? When will I ever get to use all this nonsense I’m learning?
When will my real life begin?
© 2008 Margaret Peterson Haddix