The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal. Grades 6 and up. Egmont USA, 2011. 320 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.
Princess Nalia's days are spent in study and reading, occasionally exploring the castle grounds with her best friend Kiernan. Until suddenly Nalia's life is turned upside-down. She is informed that she's not actually the real princess, but a stand-in, chosen to thwart a dooming prophecy made about the princess on her birth. Nalia's real name is Sinda. She must leave the castle and start a new life with her only living relative, an oddball aunt in a tiny backwater town.
Sinda is crushed by the loss of the only life she's ever known, but soon more important issues arise. And Sinda finds herself caught up in a deadly mission to protect the true heir to the throne.
The plot is twisty-turny, but never in a way that felt implausible. And I actually never saw anything coming (I maybe thought I did, but I never actually did!). Everything fit together and threads started in the beginning of the book come back around at the end of the book. The intricate plot makes for a very rich story and plot points were tight, making it a satisfying story, too.
There's definitely a bit of romance, and kind of a swoony one, too. You'll definitely be rooting for those two crazy kids to get together, but it's all very PG. This is a great choice for tween fantasy fans, particularly those who enjoy an adventure story and some romance.
Readalikes: The first series that came to mind as I was reading was the Song of the Lioness Quartet (starting with Alanna: The First Adventure) by Tamora Pierce. The political details of Tortall and the strong female narrator may appeal to readers of The False Princess.
I'd also recommend Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore for their intricate political details. Particularly Bitterblue, which is a story about a young queen coming into her own. Bitterblue's journey is similar to what Sinda goes through and the volume can stand alone, although readers won't want to miss Cashore's other titles and Bitterblue is probably richer for having read the first two books.