Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: The Lost Prince

The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett
William Briggs, 1915 (originally published 1915); 216 pages

This is the story of a small fictional Eastern European country whose monarchy fell apart 500 years previous and of the people fighting to restore the crown. It centers on two boys, one an exile from the fictional country (the name of which I can't remember, even though I read the book this week) and one a street urchin from London, who travel from London to the fictional country, rallying loyalists throughout Europe.

If I had read this when I was a kid, it would have been one of my favorite books. It has everything I liked best: adventure, intrigue, a European setting, mystery, heroic children doing what adults couldn't, and long-lost royalty. Reading it as an adult, though, I saw every plot twist coming a mile away, particularly the climax of the story, which I nailed in the first or second chapter. A book like this isn't nearly as interesting when one has fairly well guessed all the answers. Also, the plot calls for almost impossible suspension of disbelief. Could two young children, not even high school age, travel from England to somewhere in the neighborhood of Poland? Even if they could, why would anyone fighting for the long-lost monarchy believe the boys? And what really made me wonder is why in every generation for 500 years, the heir to the throne wanted to return to the throne? Wouldn't it have been easier for one of the heirs somewhere along the way to become a doctor or a banker or a lawyer or something that didn't involve dedicating one's life to a cause one might never see accomplished? And how is it that every generation managed to have at least one son, all of whom were able to marry and reproduce before dying, considering the high infant mortality rates in all but the most recent century or two? And how come halfway through the book, these very European (very Victorian Male, really) people are suddenly revealed to be Buddhists? Weren't Eastern Europeans of the late 1800s/early 1900s much more likely to be Catholic or Eastern Orthodox?

Okay, so I'm probably overthinking a children's book, and I did enjoy the story when I didn't think too much. Still, if you're going to read Burnett, stick to A Little Princess or Little Lord Fauntleroy.

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