Four princesses have all lived together as sisters since they were small children. But they are far from being sisters, each heir to their own throne. After a war ravaged all of their kingdoms, the victor brought the daughters of his enemies together in peace to forge a new truce. Ten years later, the girls still live together but the peace between them is strained and fraying. There is Rhea, distrusted by the other princesses because her father is the king. Cadis is the beauty and the strongest fighter but there is some question about whether her democratic sea-faring society even lets her be royalty. Iren is the quiet and meek one, concentrating on long letters home to her mother. Finally there is Suki, the youngest of them and most volatile. When the peace of the palace is breached, the princesses have to choose alliances and take up arms.
Castner has created a very strong debut novel. She has not just one strong young woman but four, each of them different from the others. Castner gives them each a unique perspective and voice and yet also keeps them from becoming stereotypical in any way. These are all princesses of war, teens who have been raised to kill and damage, to defend their kingdoms and to win. While some of them are closer than others to being true sisters and friends, others are almost enemies. The dynamics of a four teenagers living closely together and isolated is intriguing and Castner captures the subtleties of it as well as the broader issues.
Castner focuses mostly on the girls themselves and the world comes into focus as the girls leave the palace and venture outside it. Because so much of the book is political intrigue, it makes for a book that truly is from the perspective of the main characters where what they are touched by is the thing that the reader knows most about. In this way, Castner also avoids lengthy exposition about the world made up by the kingdoms. There is just enough detail for it all to make sense and work and nothing more.
Strong female protagonists who wield weapons with panache combine with politics and plenty of twists and turns to create a debut worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.