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Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

The Princess' Smile

Novel

Synopsis:
The Princess' Smile Novel

Sara lost her parents in an accident when she was twelve, but her distant relation to the royal family, plus her uncanny resemblance to Princess Hermine, landed her a home in the palace as Hermine's maid/body double. For six years it all seemed fine, but then when a failed war with a neighboring nation forced the king to send Hermine to wed the king's brother, Sara finds herself forced to fulfill her duty in a way she never expected. Can she find any happiness married to an enemy under an assumed identity?

The Princess' Smile is translated by Jenny Murphy.

Review:

Some people just can't catch a break. Sara seems to be one of them – orphaned at age twelve shortly after her family's finances collapsed, she's taken in by the king of Saleilles both due to her distant relation to the crown and the fact that she looks astoundingly similar to his daughter, Princess Hermine. Touched by Hermine's kindness, Sara is happy enough for six years as Hermine's maid and body double until the unthinkable happens: the king demands that Sara marry a foreign prince in Hermine's stead.

If at this point you're beginning to smell a rat, you may be more perceptive than Sara. But you also have the benefit of distance from her life; Sara has spent six years believing that she is utterly beholden to the princess for giving her a home and a place to belong. She is not, however, a complete ninny, and that's what both saves the early parts of this novel and sets up the final act – while Sara agrees to be sent to the island nation of Ferrier to marry their king's brother Prince Richard, she also begins to figure out that perhaps nothing was quite as good and kind as it seemed in the palace of Saleilles. Granted, the intensely sleazy behavior on the part of her boyfriend of the past two years is a pretty substantial clue; once Sara agrees to the deception, she and Hermine immediately switch places, with Hermine being sent off to a mansion under the name of Sara. When boyfriend Fermin shows up there ostensibly looking for Sara, well, let's just say that he's not entirely displeased by what he finds in her bed.

Part of what makes The Princess' Smile a satisfying book – which it absolutely is – is the way that author Yuuri Seo sets it up. The novel is essentially bookended by the events in Saleilles, Sara's native kingdom, with the main action of the story taking place in Ferrier, the island nation Sara is sent to as “Hermine.” The opening act in Saleilles is set up for both Sara's life married to Prince Richard and foreshadowing for the closing act, which also occurs in Saleilles, and Seo does a very nice job of giving us clues to what's going on outside of Sara's view. She's not stupid (this cannot be stressed enough), just raised in a particular way for someone else's benefit, and the more time she spends in Ferrier unlearning both Saleillean prejudice and being around people who value her personality, the clearer the world becomes to her. It's a natural progression for her character to follow, and we have a very firm sense of who she is as a person, which makes us invested in her well-being.

This also helps to create a particularly nice romantic plotline between Sara and Richard. Coming into the political marriage, both Sara and Richard are carrying a lot of baggage. Some of Sara's is the blind prejudice people in Saleilles are taught – Ferrier is unique in that it hasn't actively killed off its people with supernatural gifts, and now they form the majority of the population. Referred to as “mutants” by the rest of the world (and occasionally by themselves, which reflects the global culture of the novel's setting), the people of Saleilles in particular would prefer if they were eliminated for good. Even within Ferrier some powers are feared, and it doesn't take much guessing to figure out that someone close to Sara has one of them. Add in that Richard's mother's mental illness deeply scarred him as a child and Sara has her work cut out for her in getting past her new husband's defenses, and that makes for a very sweet love story between them: both Richard and Sara can see each other's strengths and worth, and they have to work to appreciate themselves even as they fall in love with each other. While the romance isn't angst-free (there'd be no tension if it was), it also lacks a lot of the more annoying romance tropes, with the rival character being one of them. Sara and Richard are already their own worst enemies; they don't need someone else in there gumming things up.

Seeing our leads blossom and thrive in each other's company is the major draw of this light novel, but it holds our attention by also having an especially good translation by Jenny Murphy. Translations from Japanese to English can sound stilted because of different grammatical structures and linguistic conventions, but Murphy's translation is natural, smooth, and very readable. There are occasional stumbles, but this is truly one of the best translations/adaptations I've read recently. Paired with Seo's writing, it makes for a very positive reading experience.

The Princess' Smile isn't perfect – the big twists aren't all that difficult to figure out ahead of time and the possibility of Sara's extraordinary sense of smell being a Ferrier-style power is never more than hinted at, which is a shame because it could have explored the world building a little more. But even with its flaws this is a very good read, a sweet story that's well-written in an interesting fantasy world.

Grade:
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B

+ Well-translated, engaging story without a lot of the more irritating romance tropes.
Plot twists are easy to figure out, a couple of storytelling gaps.

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Production Info:
Story: Yuuri Seo
Licensed by: Cross Infinite World

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Princess' Smile (light novel)

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