The second volume of Real/Fake Princess continues to deliver admirably on the premise set up in the first volume. What if you were secretly a member of the royal family in hiding, but when it came time to be reinstated on the throne, you didn’t want anything to do with such a legacy?
That’s the dilemma faced by Zhi Li, the fiery heroine of this series who’s fully aware of her status as a royal refugee. It’s the job of the imperial Seeker, Wu, to determine if she’s the real deal or not, and it’s his dismissive attitude of her that compels her to rise to the task of becoming a full-fledged princess again. Unfortunately, all this time in exile has left her without any of the good graces a princess would normally possess, and so Wu compels (shilling for commands) her to take lessons in courtly refinement.
Wu’s also determined to get her to turn away from the commoner who sheltered her during her exile, the gentle and brotherly Hui. Hui’s own situation loosely parallels Zhi Li’s: he was from a family of renowned book printers, but gave that up to help Zhi Li hide out. Zhi Li is, of course, not about give up Hui for anything — well, maybe almost anything. Through the course of Volume 2 it’s made clearer now what Hui and Zhi Li have is more brotherly/sisterly than full-out passionate — and how Wu is, against his will (and certainly his better judgment), becoming that much more personally drawn to Zhi Li.
Much to Wu’s chagrin, this attraction manifests in ways he’s definitely not proud of — as when he relents and allows Zhi Li to return to her village to be with Hui for a time. He tells himself this is so he can “investigate” Hui further, but the real reasons are clearer to us than they are to him, of course. His motives become all the more confused when he hears (albeit from a not-terribly-trustable source) that the royal family has no interest in looking for its lost family members. Why, then, has he been called upon to do this? (Something I imagine we’ll find out that much more about as things progress.)
Under it all, it’s a fairly standard romance-story plot — the haughty man and the fiery woman, both falling for each other. But a cliché is not a cliché when it works, and part of why R/F P works as well as it does is because the cliché of the situation is at least partly hidden from view, thanks to the main characters. The story grows out of them and their needs, and it’s immensely satisfying to see it unfold like that instead of out of some arbitrary dictation from on high.
I’m pleased to see a series that started off on the right foot stay that way. Even people who are not normally themselves fans of historical epics or romance might do well to take a look at this series, and that’s one of the best things I can say about a title like this.