Written by Katie Ward
Published by Katie Ward
Publication date: 27th August 2018
Summary (from Goodreads):
France 2000: Two babies are born on the same day just two hours apart – but to very different lives. Isabella is a Princess and heir to the French throne, while Sophia is born into a life of poverty and abuse at the hands of her father. At the age of 18, Sophia runs away from home. That same night, Isabella is also fleeing from the burden of her royal life when she finds Sophia slumped at the palace gates. Amazed by how alike they look, Isabella proposes a daring plot – to exchange their lives for one week.
‘The Pretender’ is an emotionally intense and compelling story of friendship, love and the strange power of destiny.
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Face it – no one’s life is free from constraint, and even if you were born into the lowliest of families you wouldn’t have the freedom you think you would. Believe me, freedom is just an illusion. If you keep chasing freedom like this, it’ll only lead to trouble.’
‘Trouble is my middle name, it’s what I do,’ I reply stubbornly. ‘Besides, you know it doesn’t count when you go away with family. I want to leave here by myself – as an ordinary woman, not as a princess.’
As I descend the Grand Staircase with my family, ready to greet the guests at my party, I feel every inch the princess I’m supposed to be. However, amongst all the fun and laughter I can’t ignore the restless notion that’s plagued me for years: that there’s so much more to life than just being a bird imprisoned in this gilded cage.
First impressions: I was drawn to this because I am fascinated by the idea of one day meeting your doppelganger and by the practicalities of them swapping places when they each lead such a different life. One of my favourite fairy tales when I was younger was (and still is!) The Goose Girl, when a maid takes the place of a princess and proceeds to marry the prince and live the royal life. In various re-imaginings it has been the maid threatening the princess, or the princess begging the maid to take her place as the prince is reputedly cruel, but I think the ‘rags-to-riches’ story has an appeal for lots of readers.
The story starts with Sophia, at five years old in an abusive home and her escape to a boarding school several years later. The story picks up again on her eighteenth birthday as she prepares to return and confront the father who hurt her and the mother who allowed it through inaction. Along the way, she thinks of the heir to the throne, Isabella, with whom she shares a birthday and a resemblance that only seems to become stronger as they get older. We then see Isabella’s perspective; as she gets closer to becoming Queen, her responsibilities begin to form a noose from which she is desperate to escape.
Their paths cross when Sophia flees her father for the final time, just as Isabella decides to make a bid for freedom…and they see in each other a solution to each of their problems.
The rest of the story is told in alternating chapters, as the deception grows and ensnares other people, with some unforeseen consequences along the way.
I found the characters really sympathetic, particularly Sophia’s older sister, Mireille, because she attempts to shield Sophia and continues to support her even after she escapes to boarding school. I liked how certain events were handled, such as Isabella using her credit card shortly after her escape from the palace and the alarm bells that it rings. At the beginning, I did wonder why none of Sophia’s friends seemed to know about her passion for creating dresses or her difficult past, as both seemed like details that may have been revealed over an 11-year friendship. The friendship seemed realistic and supportive, so I would have liked to see more from the friends throughout the story. Certain specific references such as Instagram and Iphones may date this story, but it reads like a children’s classic, with universal themes of familial connections, love and responsibility.
I recall how it had felt like an impossible dream, to be able to visit him in Paris. Yet here I am, living that dream, with the person who means so much to me. How strange it is that a nation of people have fantasies about marrying a prince or princess. Yet, as a princess, it’s my dearest dream to just live a normal life.
If people really understood the constraints of royal life, would they think differently? It seems that you really do need to be careful what you wish for, as it may come true.
Our destinies were intertwined with one another’s, like a golden thread, weaving two strangers together in inexplicable ways.
Whoever would have thought that as a Princess and a Pretender, we would share the same destiny.
What I liked: Sophia is a very sweet character and I liked the relationship between her and her sister, as well as her friends. I liked the family dynamics in Isabella’s home and the way both girls strive to adapt to their new lives. I also liked how the book is set in France and reliving the experience of visiting Paris through the eyes of Mireille and Isabella when they go sightseeing.
Even better if: The book is very dialogue-heavy, which means that we don’t always get further insight into how a character is feeling beyond what they say, some of the lines spoken by Sophia in particular feel a little stilted and I did have to suspend my disbelief completely for the ending. I would like to know what happened to the DeCastallane family after their nanny disappeared!
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a great text to talk about responsibility and the consequences of choices as well as the tension between personal freedom and the wants and needs of others. It was an uplifting read which left me feeling hopeful and could be a good recommendation for any fans of series such as The Selection or The Princess Diaries, where a ‘commoner’ gets to experience the royal life.
(Thank you to Katie Ward and Rachel’s Random Resources for my e-ARC)
About the Author:
Katie Ward always knew she wanted to write for a living. However, she was told by her careers advisor that “it might be more appropriate for you to work in a shop”. When Katie didn’t get the grades she needed to get into college, she negotiated a three month trial. After successfully completing the course she secured a place at her first choice university to study Journalism.
After realising she wanted to be an author, Katie moved to Dublin where she worked her way up from receptionist to Executive Assistant at Merrill Lynch. Katie continued to write in her spare time, submitting her short story into the “Do the Write Thing” competition being run by Irish TV show ‘Seoige and O’Shea’. This story was originally written when Katie was 14 after she was inspired by an article in her favourite teen magazine. Katie was the only non-Irish author selected to have her story published in an anthology of the same name which reached 19 in the Irish Best sellers List. Katie was also shortlisted for a competition judged by MAN Booker Prize winning author Roddy Doyle which was run by Metro Eireann newspaper.
Katie currently lives in Devon with her cat (aka ‘Her Royal Fluffiness’) where she sings in a community choir and has recently taken up Archery. Katie’s favourite author has been Roald Dahl since she was a child as she loves the dark edge he brings to his books. On the flip side though, Katie loves Disney, magic, unicorns and a good rom com film at the cinema with her friends.
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