Deception’s Princess is one of eight books in the Princesses of Myth collection by Esther Friesner. This collection takes old legends from various cultures around the world and reimagines them as novels. (Usually, two novels are devoted to each legend.) I had not heard of Friesner’s works before I happened across them in the library, but it is obvious by this point that I do, in fact, judge books by their covers, and the cover of Deception’s Princess intrigued me. Combine a picture of a red-haired girl who looks like Disney’s Merida, a falcon on her arm about to take flight, and the fact that I am a sucker for all things princess, and we have a very good recipe for a book that Natalie is going to read!
The book was fantastic. It is based on the Celtic legend of Maeve (also known as Medb; see slightly scary but impressive painting below), a warrior queen of the Connacht region of Ireland known for her daring, power, and wealth. The most famous legend in which Maeve appears is The Cattle Raid of Cooley, in which she battles for the possession of a magical bull so that she may boast of having greater wealth than her husband. Maeve is also associated with the earth and animals.. Maeve was likely a real person as well, though the facts are uncertain. Two known burial places in Ireland might hold the mortal queen’s body while the immortal goddess lives on in legend.
Friesner has artfully taken the threads of these original myths and rewoven them into a beautiful novel. She sets up some imaginative backstory for Maeve’s associations with beauty, magic, and animals while still portraying her as strong and cunning (thankfully without the violence and promiscuity of the legends).
The Maeve of Deception’s Princess is a clever, independent princess of Connacht as well as the favorite daughter of Lord Eochu, the High King of Ériu. While her sisters and the other women in her household giggle and gossip about boys and romance, Maeve spends her time avoiding her would-be consorts (an allusion to legendary Maeve’s many romances) by wandering through the surrounding countryside. The storyline itself is perhaps a little wandering as well, following Maeve through many friendships and plans and trials. We watch Maeve befriend a lad named Kelan and convince him to teach her to fight like a man (an allusion to legendary Maeve’s warrior skill). We watch her befriend a boy named Odran who teaches her how to care for animals (an allusion to legendary Maeve’s connection to animals). We watch her stand up to a druid (a scholar with supposed magical powers similar to a priest), outwit any number of noblemen, free slaves, and earn her father’s trust. We even watch her craftily capture a lord and free her friend from captivity.
Overall, though, the book seems less about Maeve’s adventures and more about coming to terms with reality as an adult as opposed to the reality once known as a child. One of the biggest issues in the novel is Maeve’s disillusionment of her father. While Maeve had always seen Lord Eochu as perfectly brave, just, and powerful, she comes to realize that he is superstitious, vulnerable, and overprotective to the point of doing harm. Throughout the novel, Maeve strives to prove herself as a daughter worthy of her father’s pride, but she later struggles to decide who she is, in her own right, when her father’s input into her identity is invalidated.
Other themes in Deception’s Princess include love, confidence, and independence. On her website, Friesner states that her goal in the Princesses of Myth novels is to create characters who set “good examples for young women in 21st century America.” A banner along the top of site reads, “Girl power is not a new idea,” and her books prove it. Friesner has done an excellent job of creating a strong, unique, and believable character whose story, though set in a time period centuries old, is relatable to many readers today. She writes beautifully, and I am left with no complaints. (Except that I had no idea how to pronounce many of the names–but it is not Friesner’s fault that I failed to notice the pronunciation guide in the back of the book until after I had finished reading!)
P.S. It is my not-quite-proven opinion that Maeve and Disney’s Merida are loosely based on the same Celtic legend, since many aspects of the story are similar–a willful red-haired princess with a desire to prove herself instead of get married, younger triplet brothers, and a strong need for freedom included. I tend to think books are better than movies, but you’ll have to decide for yourself!