Review of The Spy Princess, by Sherwood Smith

The Spy Princess

by Sherwood Smith

Viking, 2012. 386 pages.
Starred Review

Sherwood Smith does politics really well. I know, that sounds boring, but in Sherwood Smith’s hands, it’s not boring, not at all. She takes a medieval world with a kingdom and adds an unhappy populace, but applies realistic, not simplistic solutions. Then she puts her characters in the thick of unrest and change and has them try to figure out what is right and what is best. Oh, and she mixes in some magic along the way.

Sherwood Smith also does romance wonderfully well. Hold on — there’s no romance at all in this book. This one’s about kids embroiled in a kingdom at war, trying to figure out a way to make a difference. I only miss the romance because I know how well she writes it, but this book is firmly for middle grade readers and has all the adventure they could wish for with no mushy stuff.

When Princess Lilah Selenna hears peasant children yelling insults at her family’s carriage, she wants to find out what’s going on. She decides to sneak out and disguise herself as a village boy. When she does, she makes her first friends — but they are planning Revolution.

By another author, this book might be simply about carrying out the revolution. But Sherwood Smith delves a little deeper. Yes, there’s Revolution, but once the peasants are incited to violence, can the leaders get them to stop? Who will govern now and what new laws will be needed? And can they even hold their gains? For Lilah, what part can kids play in bringing about Slam Justice?

Lilah’s uncle the king has banned mages from his kingdom, but she does find some in a hidden valley. So there’s magic and spying and secret passages and vigilante justice and plenty of adventure, with some deep thinking about justice and leadership.

So this was revolution. I remembered how impatient I’d been for it to happen — just so I wouldn’t have to curl my hair. But in my idea of revolution, people gathered to make stirring speeches about how we could better our lives, followed by cheers and exciting trumpet blasts as . . . things somehow changed. Not this horror.

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