The Spy Princess by Sherwood Smith

Can four kids save a country at war?

No, not really. The lack of adult leadership in this fantasy adventure novel was troublesome. Usually, the first order of business in writing an adventure story of this sort is to get rid of all or most of the adults. Send the kids on a quest that only they can complete, or kill off all the adults (the reason for so many orphan protagonists), or make all the adults evil so that the children have to be the heroes.

But in The Spy Princess, the adults are there. Some of them, like King “Dirty Hands”, are evil or at least on the wrong side, but the good ones are mostly just impotent or distracted or something. So the teenagers have to start the rebellion, figure out how to govern the country, fail, regroup, and come back for more—while the adults dither? It just didn’t seem very believable to me. Why would the adults, good guys or bad guys, let the kids flail around and be in charge as they do in this story?

Basic plot: Lady Lilah, after a lot of dithering herself, decides to be come a spy to help the revolution that was started by her brother and a kid named Derek. She and three other friends spy on the king, Lilah’s uncle, and also turn themselves into “Robin Hoods”, stealing from the king’s men and giving to the poor. Meanwhile, Lilah’s brother, Peitar, dithers about whether or not to put himself forward to become king and about how to govern if he does. Derek, the other leader of the rebellion, doesn’t dither, but he doesn’t think much either. Mostly he orders people to set fire to buildings and towns and cities and anything else combustible.

There’s bit of magic in the story, but it’s mostly used for cleaning? The most common mentions of magic at work are a cleaning frame(?) that bathes people magically, some kind of magic used for washing dishes, and later in the story a magic mop that still has to be pushed across the floor. All the other magic in the kingdom is either worn out or held back, kind of saved for a rainy day, which comes toward the end of the story.

Not my favorite, but if you’re looking for an adventure along the lines of the French Revolution, lots of musings about how to govern a mob, and a rather rash set of adolescent revolutionaries, The Spy Princess might be just the thing.

Other voices:
Pages Unbound: “The proper plot elements are all in place to make this an exciting read—spies, revolution, magic, children saving the land—but the execution was not quite there. I personally found the beginning parts of the novel somewhat boring, including the part where the people rush in and try to overthrow the king.”

Sonderbooks: “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.”

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