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The Decoy Princess
Dawn Cook
Ace, 356 pages

The Decoy Princess
Dawn Cook
Dawn Cook's other novels include First Truth and Hidden Truth.

Dawn Cook Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Lost Truth
SF Site Review: Forgotten Truth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

All her life, Princess Contessa of Costenopolie has been raised as a proper princess should, well-versed in fashion, diplomacy, politics, and shopping. However, she's also been trained quite thoroughly in how to protect herself, by Chancellor Kravenlow, who has spent years teaching her how to use various easily-hidden weapons, including venom-laced darts. Tess has never thought much about it, really. Being a princess is a dangerous job, and sometimes a girl has to protect herself. However, every skill Tess has learned still won't prepare her for the tasks at hand when her entire world is turned inside out, and her very identity revealed as a lie.

On the eve of an undesired royal betrothal, Tess' parents reveal the truth to her: she's really an orphan, bought off the street as a baby, and raised as a princess in public, all so the real princess could live a life of solitary safety in a far-off nunnery. But now it's time for the real princess to come home and take up her throne, leaving Tess to question her past and future. This, however, is derailed when Prince Garrett of Misdev, her "sister's" betrothed, kills the king and queen of Costenopolie and sends out riders to track down the true princess, thus securing his control of the kingdom. Now it's up to Tess to escape an occupied castle, travel across country, find her "sister" and save the day. Her unlikely allies will include a peasant sculptor, a princess who has never been out in the real world, a con man/card sharp whose trustworthiness is always in question, and Kravenlow, whose secret agenda has finally come to light. Standing against Tess is Captain Jeck of Misdev, a dangerous man whose allegiances aren't what they seem. And as the unlikely heroine discovers that she has been better trained as an assassin than a princess, she'll learn that there's a dangerous game being played, where kingdoms are used as chessboards, and royalty as game pieces. Does Tess have what it takes to be a player, or will she remain a pawn?

Fresh from the success of her Truth series, Dawn Cook delivers this, the first book in an exciting new series, with style and panache. It's always good to have a strong female character, and Tess is certainly as strong as they come, a semi-spoiled princess with nerves of steel and an unwavering determination to see things through to the end. Sure, she has trouble coping with the revelation that she's not really a princess, but who wouldn't be upset to learn their entire life was a lie, and they were just a public target for any potential assassins?

The true fun of this book lies in the other underlying concept: that of the mysterious game being played across kingdoms. While it would be wonderful to get more information regarding the specifics of this setup (Cook only touches on the surface here, leaving many questions to be answered later), what we do learn is intriguing. Where most plots would run with the political chaos generated from the royal coup in the beginning, Cook draws back to hint at an even larger picture, one where it's all part of the game, and even royalty are just pieces to be moved or sacrificed as needed.

The moral ambiguity of characters like Jeck, Kravenlow, and Duncan (the card sharp) ensure that the plot never grows stale or predictable, with motivations never what they seem, and outcomes always up in the air. Think the good guys win and the bad guys get all they deserve? Don't be so sure.

The Decoy Princess is an excellent, energetic start to this series, laying the groundwork for plenty of story yet to come. For fans of action and adventure fantasy, and for those who like political intrigue without delving into the overwhelming epic complexities of books like George R.R. Martin's series, this is a great choice. I love the concepts and potential introduced here, and look forward to future offerings.

Copyright © 2006 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.

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