Author: Sherwood Smith
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: YA Angst (original publisher) / new ebook edition from Book View Cafe
Publication Date: March 2008
Hardcover: 300 pages
Rhis, princess of a small kingdom, is invited along with all the other princesses in her part of the world to the coming of age party of the Crown Prince of Vesarja, which is the central and most important kingdom. When Iardith, the prettiest and most perfect of all the princesses, is abducted, Rhis and her friends go to the rescue.
What happens to Rhis and her posse has unexpected results not only for the princesses, but for the princes who chase after them. Everyone learns a lot about friendship and hate, politics and laughter, romantic ballads and sleeping in the dirt with nothing but a sword for company. But most of all they learn about the many meanings of love.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel, but set in the same world as Sherwood Smith’s Wren books (different than the Crown Duel series world of Sartorias-Deles)
How did I get this book: Bought (ebook edition)
Why did I read this book: I’ve read and loved Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel duology (which I remember reading as a much younger girl and LOVING wholeheartedly), but for some bizarre reason have never read any of Ms. Smith’s other books. I have a copy of Coronets and Steel on my TBR somewhere, and then out of the blue, A Posse of Princesses showed up in a recommendation generator for my ereader. Since I’ve been in the mood for old school historical fantasy with a dash of romance, I couldn’t resist.
Review Note: The ebook edition (which I’ve reviewed below) corrects many errors from the original 2008 book, and has a new chapter near the end.
Princess Rhis of the small, craggy, but bountifully rich kingdom of Nym lives a charmed but rather boring life.
Though she’s intelligent, Rhis is not the heir to the throne and thus has little interest in learning all the subjects that make a queen (especially not when her stuffy elder sister-by-marriage insists on nitpicking the flaws in Rhis’s attention span and work ethic). Instead, the plain young princess is far more interested in the things that make her happy – music, dancing, and composing ballads (to varying degrees of success). Instead of studying politics or treatises, Rhis spends her time escaping from her daily chores and sneaking away to her private tower, spying the comings and goings of the kingdom with just her music and thoughts to keep her company.
When an invitation arrives from Crown Prince Lios of Vesarja to attend the celebration of his return from adventures abroad, Rhis can barely contain her excitement. All of the eligible young princes and princesses from neighboring kingdoms will be in attendance, and rumor has it that the young Crown Prince will be looking for a future bride. When Rhis arrives at the palace, she expects a whirlwind mix of dancing, music and frivolity – she doesn’t expect the friends she will make, the sides she will choose, the incredible adventure quest she’ll find herself spearheading, or falling in love.
Dudes. DUDES. I loved this delightful throwback to old school YA fantasy, coming of age novel. I’m happy to report that my memories of Crown Duel and Court Duel did not steer me wrong, because A Posse of Princesses is everything I was hoping for and then some. Resourceful heroine with agency? Check. Believable teenage characters? Yep. Fantastically varied (ethnically and culturally!) fantasy world? You got it. A dash of compelling, non-cheesy romance? Oh hell yes. I went into A Posse of Princesses expecting a diverting fantastical romp with a dash of romance, and Sherwood Smith delivered in spades.
First and foremost, I adored the heroine of this adventure, young, sixteen year old princess Rhis of Nym. Rhis is not your typical heroine – she’s neither beautiful (she’s rather plain with her stick skinny frame and mouse brown hair and eyes), nor is she remarkably intelligent (not that she’s lacking brains, but rather lacking direction and drive to apply herself to those subjects that don’t interest her). She is what one might expect of a sixteen year old princess from a sheltered kingdom; a dreamer, naive, a little dramatic and self-absorbed (but really, when you’re sixteen, who isn’t a little dramatic and self-absorbed?!), but her heart is in the right place. Instead of being particularly brave, or a warrior princess, or with a biting, unparalleled wit, Rhis is a heroine with an incredible sense of empathy. She cares for others and puts aside social expectation as she tries to see others in new and open-minded ways – and that is an incredibly cool quality in a YA heroine. Though Rhis might not start off as a heroine or with an aptitude for studying or adventure, she grows so much over the course of the book as her experiences and interactions with others shape her character. This is similarly awesome, and I loved her character arc from sheltered, slightly-superficial princess to a possible queen with adventure and a rescue mission under her belt.
Similarly, the supporting cast of royals in this book are wonderfully drawn. I loved the passionate, fickle nature of Princess Shera, the powerful warrior-minded Princess Taniva of the plains, and the foreign Princess Yuzhyu who tries so hard to master the language and fit in with a court that is largely happy to ignore her. Of course, what would the story be without Prince Lios and his trusty, sly scribe Dandiar? I won’t say much for that way lies spoilers – but I loved, loved the romance (even if it’s a bit predictable, so what! It’s done well. Sans super cheese. YES.). Heck, I even loved the ‘perfect princess’ Iardith – the epitome of beauty in this world with her dark skin and long dark hair, but a cruel streak as broad as her ego. I love that each of these characters, Iardith included, are humanized and we see through Rhis’s eyes why they might act the way they do.
From a plotting perspective, there is a degree of familiarity to the story – secret identities, courtly intrigue, romantic misunderstanding, and a daring rescue mission all factor prominently in the book. While some of the bigger twists lean towards the predictable, the writing is done so well and the characters so engaging that it hardly matters. From a worldbuilding point of view, I loved the setting and its varied cultures, from the mountainous (and resource rich) Nym, to the wild High Plains, to the warish kingdom of Damatras, to the distant shores of Ndai (look, there’s a map too!). There are many different realms here, each with their own variations and entanglements, and as A Posse of Princesses is just one standalone novel in a universe with other books and characters, I’ll be sure to revisit it soon.
Finally, can I just say how much I *loved* that Sherwood Smith takes a more cautious look at LOVE FOREVER at sixteen years old? Instead of ending with a teenage marriage and happily ever after immediately, there is a period of wait and angst, with both Rhis and her prince exploring what they want for themselves, apart from each other, before making any lifelong decisions. This is, in a word, awesome.
If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. A whole lot. I’ll need to find and dust off my copy of Coronets and Steel very soon (and also search out the vast, sprawling waste of my TBR for a copy of Inda. I know it’s in there. Somewhere.). Absolutely recommended. Please, for the love of all that is good, do NOT judge this book by its cover.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
From the tower lookout in the royal castle–highest tower in all the kingdom of Nym–Princess Rhis peered down through the misting rain at a messenger on the road.
This rider slumped in the saddle of a long-legged lowlands race-horse that was now plodding up the steep road, occasionally hidden by tall stands of deep green fir. The messenger had to be from the lowlands. Anyone raised in Nym’s mountains knew that the only animal for the steep roads was a pony. Their sturdy bodies and short legs fared better on steep slopes. The rider’s cloak was crimson, a bright splash of color even in the gloom of a rainy afternoon. None of Nym’s royal messengers wore crimson cloaks. This one must be an equerry from the Queen of faraway Vesarja, she thought, and turned away from the window to resume pacing around the little room.
Once, many years ago, the old tower had been a lookout for Nym’s warriors, no longer necessary since the kingdom had established magical protection. Now the small, stone tower room had become Rhis’s private retreat.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Starters by Lissa Price
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