Review

A Princess of Roumania

by Paul Park



You know, it's called fantasy literature for a reason. And let's
face it...you do it too. Everyone does, and maybe adopted children
do it more than anyone else. What if your parents weren't your
parents, what if your homeland wasn't your homeland, what if you
were born to be a princess ruling a far away land somewhere in your
imagination? You need not have spent a lot of your life trying to
get through wardrobes to get to Narnia --- or down rabbit holes to
get to Wonderland, or pick your fantasy of choice --- to understand
the appeal of A PRINCESS OF ROUMANIA.

The real world in which we live (unless you're reading this on a
broadband hookup from Oz) can be a dark, difficult and dangerous
place. Although fantasy worlds can be dark and difficult at times,
they're largely meant to be escapist and fun. What author Paul Park
has done in A PRINCESS OF ROUMANIA is to make things in the
alternate fantasy world darker, more dangerous, and much less fun
--- to the point where characters in the fantasy world tend to see
our reality as their fantasy.

In the fantasy world of A PRINCESS OF ROUMANIA, the sixteenth
century isn't dead, or else it has been going on for a very long
time. America is still a trackless wilderness, populated by its
native people and a few brave English and Dutch colonists. The
kingdom of Roumania is under the thumb of its German occupiers.
Meanwhile, the disinherited Baroness Ceausescu --- once the leading
lady of the stage, now the penniless widow of an alchemist ---
plots her return to power. And the way to get power is to gain
control over the rightful heiress to the throne.

Meanwhile, the rightful heiress to the throne is in high school in
the Massachusetts that you and I know, hanging out with friends,
exploring the woods around her home, and, from time to time,
looking at the mysterious artifacts she has had all her life.
Miranda Popescu is a normal teenager of Romanian descent, adopted
out of a Romanian orphanage shortly after the fall of Communist
dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. (And yes, there is a connection.) She
has only vague unanswered questions about her past, and does not
know that she is at the center of intrigue, mystery, and an
unknowable destiny.

To say much more about what happens to Miranda would be unfair ---
and it would be even less fair to say what happens to her friends
and how they come to accompany her to the alternate Roumania.
However, despite a good deal of magical doings, and a subtle and
malicious plot, all that A PRINCESS OF ROUMANIA manages to do is
set a scene. It is clearly intended to be book one of a series,
although you might not know that at first. Readers looking for a
sense of closure would be advised to look somewhere else, or to
wait for the (hopefully) inevitable sequel.

Until then, the real question for the reader is whether he or she
wants to spend time in Park's fantasy world. The world that is
created for the reader is dense in detail, in smoke, and in
political maneuvering. There is magic both in the story and in the
rich, layered, baroque style in which it is written. But it is a
world with a long and complicated history, with subtly different
rules. There is almost a textbook quality to the novel at times.
While it is undoubtedly a complex and challenging work, it feels
like it's almost trying too hard to prove that it outclasses its
roots in fantasy literature. The only problem with A PRINCESS OF
ROUMANIA is that it's a bit of a struggle to get down that rabbit
hole.

A Princess of Roumania
by Paul Park

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • ISBN-10: 0765310961
  • ISBN-13: 9780765310965