Saturday, October 12, 2013

"The Princess of Cortova"

Diane Stanley is the author and illustrator of beloved books for young readers, including The Silver Bowl, which received three starred reviews, was named a best book of the year by Kirkus Reviews and Book Links Lasting Connections, and was an ALA Booklist Editors' Choice; The Cup and the Crown; Saving Sky, winner of the Arab American Museum's Arab American Book Award and a Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year; Bella at Midnight, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and an ALA Booklist Editors' Choice; The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy; The Mysterious Matter of I. M. Fine; and A Time Apart.

Stanley applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Princess of Cortova, and reported the following:
I turned to page 69 of The Princess of Cortova with some trepidation. Would I find some tedious bit of exposition? Drop into the middle of a complicated section, completely incomprehensible if you haven’t read the beginning? So it was a pleasant surprise when I found myself in one of my favorite scenes. Better still, it was a telling moment, representative of the book as a whole.

The Princess of Cortova (the final book in the Silver Bowl trilogy) is a tale of royal intrigue: With tensions rising between the neighboring kingdoms of Westria and Austlind, Molly and Tobias accompany the young King Alaric to Cortova, where he hopes to form an alliance with King Gonzalo, the treaty to be sealed by Alaric’s marriage to Gonzalo’s daughter, Elizabetta. This alliance is crucial to Alaric because his cousin, King Reynard of Austlind, has become an increasing military threat.

But Gonzalo has tricks up his sleeve, beginning with the unwelcome revelation that Alaric is not the only suitor. King Reynard is also there, seeking the same alliance and the marriage with the princess for his son. Soon the two kings are trapped in a nightmarish bidding war, in which the price keeps spiraling up and the terms become ever more outrageous, yet neither can afford to walk away, lest the other one win. Then comes the first attempt on Alaric’s life.

How appropriate, then, that page 69 begins with a deception. It’s a small one compared with what follows; but it’s apt because this particular deception involves another central story line, the romantic tension between Molly, Alaric, and Tobias.

A string of desperate situations have brought this unlikely trio together; and over the course of the three books, their feelings for one another have grown as confused and problematic as they are intense. The reader senses that Molly and Alaric care deeply for each other. But nothing is ever said. And whatever their feelings might be, she’s a commoner, he’s a king, and duty takes precedence. Alaric must marry the princess and Molly must help him do it. The reader also knows that Tobias loves Molly—everyone knows; he wears his heart on his sleeve. But what she feels for him, beyond cherishing him deeply as her best friend since childhood, is not entirely clear. So with all this in mind, page 69 seems especially fitting:
“Forgive me, Tobias,” he said, “but before the priest arrives, I must explain that we’ve created a little deception here.”

The priest? What priest? Tobias looked questioningly at Molly, but she was staring down at her shoes.

“He will bless our journey, and pray for a good outcome, and so forth.”

Ah. But then why were he and Richard there? And Winifred?

“However, the court shall believe—and the priest will not say otherwise—that he was called for another purpose: to hear”—he took a deep breath—“your vows of betrothal.”

Tobias gasped. Molly cleared her throat. Neither looked the other in the eye.

“If anyone asks, you will say that the wedding is set for a year from now, when Molly comes of age. I have rings for both of you to wear. Once the journey is over, of course, you can take them off again, and we can spread the word that the betrothal was broken by mutual consent. We’ll think up some good reason why.”

Before Tobias could speak—his mouth was already open—the king held up a hand to stop him. “It had to be you, Tobias. No one else would be believed, and it’s doubtful that anyone would even have been willing—”
The terrible awkwardness of this moment, the multiple heartstrings being pulled, won’t be entirely clear to the casual reader jumping in at mid-stream. But I think there’s enough here to give a sense of a larger story, deeper feelings.

And the king’s remark at the end, insensitive though true—that none of his highborn knights would have been willing to link their names with Molly’s—brings in yet another theme: the enormous class difference between King Alaric and the other two, complicating Molly’s task in helping him win the treaty, acting as an impediment to any future for Alaric and Molly.

That’s a lot in just a few short lines. All in all, I’m pleased with the page 69 test.
Learn more about the book and author at Diane Stanley's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue