Last year, or maybe it was the year before, LOCUS magazine had glowing reviews of this fantasy, the first of a trilogy, and it made the Best of the Year lists of many of their reviewers. I finally picked up the mass market paperback, with its nice John Jude Palencar cover and lots of impressive review quotes.
Miranda Popescu, the heroine of the story, is a teenage girl in our world, but has a secret past even she and her parents don’t know: she’s really a princess to the throne of Roumania, but not in our world, in an alternate Earth where Roumania is a very powerful country that has been taken over by other rulers. Miranda was hidden on our Earth by her enchantress aunt, and grew up in an normal way here, but now the secret is coming out, and various factions from her real home are out to grab her for whatever cachet her name and title can give them in the battle for power there.
About half the book follows Miranda and her friends, two of which undergo very surprising transformations when they are drawn back to her home world, but still in America, which there is still mostly colonial wilderness. The other half follows events in the other Roumania, and the players in the power struggle, mainly focusing on Baroness Nicola Ceaucescu, a fascinating character: born in poverty, made a name for herself as an actress, married into money and a title, but has fallen on hard times. A person subject to the most horrible whims who will not stop at murder. I actually found her more interesting than Miranda.
There is magic in the book, plenty of it, but the main focus is on personalities, politics and morality, or the lack of it. The writing is good, but the overall shape of the story didn’t gel for me, I never got a sense of where it was all going. I liked the book well enough to want to read more, and will buy the next volume of the trilogy, but I’m not anxious to read it, as happens when a book really grabs me. It did provide a lot to think about while I was in it, though, particularly as I wondered what horror the Baroness would get involved in next.