The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal – Review

Book Jacket:

Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia’s led a privileged life at court.  But everything changes when it’s revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection.  Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she’s ever known.

Sinda is sent to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt who is a dyer in a distant village. She is a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, and Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks.  But when Sinda discovers that magic runs through her veins – long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control – she realizes that she can never learn to be a simple village girl.

Returning to Vivaskari for answers, Sinda finds her purpose as a wizard scribe, rediscovers the boy who saw her all along, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor’s history, forever.

A dazzling first novel, The False Princess is an engrossing fantasy full of mystery, action, and romance.

You can read an excerpt here.


The False Princess is a lovely surprise – a clean, fun and satisfying adventure fantasy.

Even before I picked it up, I loved the idea behind this book – but I also worried that I might find The False Princess to be too much in the shadow of Dawn Cook’s The Decoy Princess, another tale of a false princess (and a book I love). Happily, that was not the case – while there are some large thematic similarities, The False Princess from the start is very much its own story.

The book begins with our lead, Sinda, facing both an identity crises and a complete reversal of fortune. Her initiation into the adult world is abrupt and callous, and O’Neal does a wonderful job deftly introducing Sinda to the realities of poverty and class-ism, making Sinda understand just how privileged she used to be. Sinda’s emotional struggle to reinvent herself, even as she’s trying to navigate what to her is essentially a foreign land (a backwater small town), is wonderful. Her determination to make herself useful, her embarrassment when faced with reminders of her old life, and her stubborn pride all make for a character it is impossible not to like. Sinda is not your typical fairy tale princess – she has flaws, makes mistakes, and learns some harsh lessons, all of which make her coming of age a wonderful story.

O’Neal is an author who is not afraid to make sudden left turns in her narrative, as Sinda’s evolving circumstances and the mystery at the heart of this book demonstrate, and the story is much more interesting for it. The shape the mystery took was not at all what I was expecting, which frankly delighted me. Sinda’s investigation leads to all sorts of escapades and adventures, and creates a nice sense of menace, with Sinda becoming fully aware of just how far over her head she is, though she remains stubbornly determined to see it through. I wasn’t quite on board with all of Sinda’s decisions in how she goes about solving the mystery, but even when she’s being something of an idiot, O’Neal does a lovely job of making us understand why – there’s always an emotional underpinning to Sinda’s decisions; it’s never out of context with the character, never just something added on for plot convenience.

Of course there is a romance to this story, and it’s an endearingly sweet one. Sinda’s best friend evolves into her love interest, and while it’s fairly obvious how it’s all going to play, it’s still fun to read.

The narrative moves along at a good clip, with plenty of adventure to be had, and the ending, while a tad predictable, is fun enough that you won’t mind. This book is just a solid romp – action, magic, romance, and adventure, with a nice core of a character figuring out where she belongs in the world.

So while this story may not be earth shatteringly original, it still manages to be fresh and interesting, and just downright enjoyable. I will definitely be picking up this book again when I’m in the mood for a sweet, light read.

If you’re a fan of Shannon Hale or Janice Hardy, this is definitely one for you.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say, you don’t have to take my word for it…

Ellie Strange at YA Books Central says:

The False Princess takes you on a winding road of twists and turns. It’s a quick, casual read, and fans of the magic genre won’t want to miss this one. What I loved most was the author’s description of what magic felt like to wield. Sinda had to learn how to control her magic, and it worked similar to how we learn to control our emotions. Keeping them bottled up inside isn’t the best course of action, nor is letting them explode willy nilly, never keeping them in check. Everyone should be able to relate to Sinda’s struggle with this. It made the book all the more real for me.

Emily’s Reading Room says:

…I really loved this book. Sinda started out as a character that was weak, flawed, and quite two-dimensional. By the end of the book she was lively, strong, and very in control. It was one of the best transformations in a character that I’ve seen in awhile.

Simply Books says:

Overall, I really enjoyed The False Princess. It wasn’t the best novel I’ve ever read, but definitely a commendable debut for Eilis O’Neal. Once again, if you like palace fantasies, you should make sure to check this out.