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The False Princess – Eilis O’Neal
Upon her 16th birthday, the princess Nalia learns that she is not who she was raised to be. A prophecy and a magic spell to change appearances has led to the real princess Nalia having been hidden away in infancy and the orphan Sinda having been raised in her place. Sent to live with her aunt, her only remaining relative, Sinda stumbles across her inner magic that had been suppressed by the spell upon her appearance. Making her way back to the city, Sinda learns of a secret plot that could destroy the nation she loves, and also realizes the importance of friendship and love, no matter one’s station.
I heard of this novel through a friend of the author, whose blog I’ve followed for years. From experience, I know that just about anything Amanda Gannon recommended was bound to be good. It had fallen to the wayside of my consciousness, though, until a blog post mentioned that the author, Eilis O’Neal, was running a contest to win a personalized copy of The False Princess, and a handmade rendering of the map mentioned in the book, made by Ms. Gannon. I was one of two lucky people to win, and I fell to the book, ravenous for some good reading!
The story reads like a fairy tale, but on the inverse. Instead of finding out she is a princess, this is a girl finding out that she is not the princess. The story is full of fun details, clean plot lines, and a mysterious secret that keeps you guessing as to who Sinda can trust. My favorite character was Kiernan, Sinda’s best friend from childhood who refused to write her off when she was sent away after learning she wasn’t royalty. He is such a sweetheart, and he is true to himself.
The False Princess is a good fantasy story for all ages, and I hope it becomes a staple for fairy tale fantasy lovers everywhere.
Interview with Eilis:
Othella: Where did The False Princess come from? What was your writing process with this novel? Was there a particular inspiration that started you on Sinda's story?
Eilis: I've always been a big reader of fantasy and fairy tales, so I've read (and loved!) tons of stories about girls who have grown up in obscurity only to find out that they're really princesses. One day, I started wondering what would happen if you had to live the reverse, if you had grown up thinking that you were a princess and then learned that you weren't. As soon as that question hit me, a lot of other questions followed on its heels, and I knew I had to write that book.
As for my writing process, The False Princess was typical for me in a lot of ways. I have to write books in order—no jumping around to chapter 6 when I haven't finished chapter 5. I'm not the best outliner in the world, so generally I know the big events/character arcs that will happen, but get to find out along the way how to link them together. What wasn't typical is that, with TFP, I had almost the whole plot there from the beginning—I didn't have to do much juggling to figure out all the mysteries or how to resolve them.
Othella: Since The False Princess reads like a fairy tale, or the inverse of one, I am assuming that fairy tales are something you enjoy. Which tales or stories inspired by fairy tales top your list?
Eilis: I do love fairy tales, and I couldn't have written The False Princess without that interest. In terms of original fairy tales, I like “The Snow Queen,” “The Wild Swans” and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” best.
Othella: Are you a fairy tale purist, or do you enjoy all the modern retelling we've had in the past few decades? Is there any modern retelling of a tale that you prefer to the original?
Eilis: I love modern retellings. Because they can be so much longer, they often make for a much more intimate reading experience than the originals, which are great but not generally high on character development. I also love seeing the ways that other writers change the originals or add to them, usually in ways I would never have thought of. In terms of modern novels based on fairy tales, my favorites are Robin McKinley's Beauty and Deerskin, Malinda Lo's Ash, Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days, and Edith Pattou's East.
Othella: Many people of all skill levels write for fun. What started you on the path to being a published author, and what advice might you give an aspiring author?
Eilis: I've always loved telling stories—I started doing it before I could even read for myself. Then, as a teenager, I entered my local library's teen writing contest for about six years in a row. One of the things that they do that is awesome is to bring in a famous authors for the awards ceremony and for a talk to the public. I got to hear Katherine Paterson, Cynthia Voigt, Gary Paulson, Walter Dean Myers—all sorts of fantastic authors. They all had lots of advice for aspiring writers, and listening to them made me believe I could be a writer myself. In fact, my advice echoes a lot of advice they gave. First of all, read as much as you can and as widely as you can. Second, actually write. Try to take a time every day to write something, because getting in the habit of writing can be a great help with things like writer's block. And third, persevere. Know that the first, or even the twentieth, thing you write won't be perfect, and be willing to put in the time it takes to revise and improve your work.
Othella: You have a very unique name, Eilis. Is there a story behind it? Do you enjoy being so individual with your name, or would you rather be among the legion of Sarahs or Marys or Amys or Elizabeths?
Eilis: Eilis is the Irish version of Elizabeth, which is a family name. And yes, I love having a name that hardly anyone else has, even if very few people can pronounce it right on the first try. (It's Ay-lish.) Having a unique name always made me feel special as a kid, and I would certainly give any kids of my own uncommon names.
Othella: You create very colorful worlds in your writings. If you could, is there one that you would like to live in?
Eilis: Of my own? There's a story I wrote called “The Wizard's Calico Daughter” that takes place in a very strange house. It's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, and has rooms like a library with all the books in the world in it. I think I'd like to live in that house.
Othella: Is there something that you're working next? Will you be continuing with novels or do you prefer your short stories, like "The Wizard's Calico Daughter", "Quiz", and "The Wing Collection"?
Eilis: I would say that my heart lies with novels, but I have a lot of fun writing short stories, so I'm hoping to do both in the future. And I am working on a new novel, but I'm going to be coy about it since it's still in the early stages.
Learn more about Eilis and read some of her amazing short stories on her website.
You can get your own copy of The False Princess from:
*I received a copy of this book as a contest prize. The review is my own honest opinion and was not solicited by the author or any agent on her behalf. The author was kind enough to agree to my request and answer my interview questions to accompany this review.