CAFÉ READS: A POSSE OF PRINCESSES, by Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith specializes in fantasy, especially for young adults. She manages to tell rip-roaring adventures about young people while still tucking a few good lessons gracefully into the narrative of her stories. Whether her heroine has become a figurehead for a rebellious country at war with its despot king (Court Duel), or a young man training in the arts of war discovers he has no stomach for killing (A Stranger to Command) Smith manages to pair twisty coming-of-age dilemmas with stories that become history in later tales

If you are in the mood for a charming YA fantasy with lovely world building, a wonderful, impetuous, kind princess, and exciting adventures both clever yet heart-twisting? My choice today is A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith.

Smith has written many popular books for all ages, but there is something special about this one. Sixteen year old Rhis is the unexpected last of three children born to the rulers of tiny, wealthy Nym. She loves ballads and folktales, and has no envy of either her brother the heir or her older sister, a mage who will one day be the court advisor as their mother before her. Nym is so small the ruler doesn’t hold formal court, so Rhis’s only knowledge about how larger kingdoms work is from books and her instruction from her brother’s very stern, very proper young wife.

All Rhis wants is to write tales of great valor and romance, of tragedy turned to triumph. She knows that she must marry to help her family, but admits she would like some romance along the way. But nothing exciting—especially a handsome prince showing up at the castle door—ever happens in Nym anymore. All the excitement is in the past.

Her family cares about her and what she wants; no one will force her to marry against her will, or study magic because she shows some talent at it. But everyone agrees that going to a huge event in neighboring Vesarja to celebrate Prince Lios being named the heir is a good chance for Rhis to meet many of her peers and learn the ins and outs of a court. She cannot marry before she turns twenty, so her only responsibilities are to be a good ambassador and have fun!

Vesarja is beautiful beyond words, and handsome Lios is a prince who could inspire one of her ballads. But life isn’t like a song. Her new friends are quietly unhappy, Lios is always occupied by Iardith, the “perfect princess,” and Rhis discovers troubled waters beneath facades.

Rhis does her best to help her new friends while she prepares for the dance that is her chance to speak with Lios alone. . .and then the “perfect princess” is abducted. Afraid that this could spark a war, Rhis and her new princess friends tear off in pursuit, to fix this mess before it comes to the attention of their parents. They forget that each of them has their own value and secrets in the countries beyond their gathering—and that they may arrive like an avalanche in the affairs of the world.

Rhis learns more lessons in her brief visit than she can hold in both hands, even as she finds out that the prince of her dreams may be nothing like those fellows in the ballads. A bonus, if giving this book to a younger person–Smith always manages to slip somewhere into the story, either from a respected adult or friend, the lesson that there is attraction and then there is love. And it’s great to find them together, but woe to someone who mistakes the first for the second.

A Posse of Princesses is the perfect princess book, one I have read more than once. Rhis’s supporting cast is as full-fleshed and interesting as she is, and this may be the swiftest and best done HEA ending I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended! It’s available in ebook, print, and audiobook. There’s a sample here.

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