A couple of common threads around here include retold fairy tales, and the masked Phantom of the Opera…so The Princess in the Opal Mask by Jenny Lundquist, with its Cinderella spin and masked princess, seems tailor-made, no? 🙂 It also turned out to have strong female characters, a well-developed world and an excellent fantasy feel, all things I enjoy in a book!
The story alternates narration between two girls: Elara who has a Cinderella-like existence among her adopted family, and no knowledge of her birth parents; and Wilha, a princess who has never been allowed to show anyone her face, not even her own father. And…it’s hard to say more without spoilers, but suffice to say both girls end up central players in a tentative and uncertain peace treaty with a neighboring kingdom. There’s intrigue and romance and backstabbing and conspiracies–and Wilha’s mask is only the most visible one.
I really loved the idea of the princess in the mask, and was so intrigued by the mystery–even Wilha herself doesn’t know why she has to wear a mask all the time. All sorts of rumors fly, that her face is cursed or blessed, and the book explores Wilha’s own confused feelings and fears. The Phantom of the Opera at least knew why he was hiding his face–Wilha has no answers, except a fear that showing her face will mean death for anyone who sees her.
Wilha also struggles to be seen as a person, not as The Masked Princess. Most of us don’t go around in physical masks all the time (or hardly ever…) but the struggle to be seen as our true selves is much more universal.
Clearly I warmed to and related to Wilha right away. Elara took longer–part of her struggle is that she doesn’t want to let anyone get close to her. Considering her life, that does make sense. Unfortunately, I felt like I couldn’t get close to her as a reader either. However, she emerged more in the second half of the book, making more connections to others–and me!
The worldbuilding is another very strong element of the book. Much of what happens, particularly with the neighboring kingdom, is grounded in the country’s history. Lundquist does a nice job conveying a lot of information about past events, without getting bogged down or dry.
Description is a strong element here too. Those masks may be imprisoning Wilha…but they’re beautiful too. I want an illustrated version of this, mostly just to see the masks. The cover is pretty, but it really doesn’t do justice to the elaborately-described masks!
There were plenty of unexpected turns in here, and it genuinely kept me guessing in the romance department. A sequel has been promised for next Fall, and I’m looking forward to it! Wilha and Elara are both on paths towards claiming their own lives and I can’t wait to see where they go next–and I’m hoping the sequel will pick up some threads (romance included) that were left unresolved here. If this book was any indication, more twists and mysteries will be in store!
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
Author’s Site: http://jennylundquist.com
Buy it here: The Princess in the Opal Mask