Rani’s twin, Ranjit, came bounding into the room. The servants clicked their tongues in disapproval and Anila, the princesses’ tutor, objected loudly.
‘Who do you think you are, you bold boy? You do not enter your sisters’ chamber like a baby buffalo. Go out and come in again in the manner of the future king we hope you will be.’
Two of the princesses just grinned, but Rani laughed as Ranjit backed out bowing over double.
‘I’m sorry, oh great Queen of Gurus,’ he intoned as if he were one of the Brahmin priests conduction a ceremony. ‘I’m so sorry for offending you. I will be-’
At that moment Ranjit backed into a small tale knocking it flying and sending hair ornaments skittering along the floor. Ranjit took one look at Anila’s face and fled.
In the Shadow of the Palace begins with light-hearted child’s play but the shadow of the title soon makes its presence known. The three princesses are to marry very soon and they may no longer be together. Worse is to come. Before they can begin to meet the boys/men who will compete for their attentions, they are kidnapped by a rival kingdom in a bid for power. Rani, the main character and middle sister is the most outspoken of the three. Her boldness and initiative are bound to get her into even more trouble and sure enough they do. While her sisters remain locked in the palace, she is set to work in the kitchen, doing the lowliest tasks. It becomes clear that rescue is unlikely and Rani determines to make her own escape and to liberate her two sisters. She goes undercover as a trainee soldier, and finds allies in surprising places.
In the Shadow of the Palace is book one in a new series from black dog books, well known for their historical offerings (eg Carole Wilkinson’s Dragonkeeper series). Judith A. Simpson takes the reader back in history to a time of kingdoms, bandits, class structures and strategic marriages. The more things change, the more things stay the same. So it is with ‘In the Shadow of the Palace’. Beneath the cultural differences, there are the same issues which face children of today. Learning to trust, finding your place in a changing world, standing up for what you believe in – all these are as relevant as they ever were. Wrap this up in a grand adventure with a broad raft of characters including the resourceful and flawed main character Rani, and In the Shadow of the Palace is sure to attract a faithful readership. Recommended for upper primary- to early secondary-aged readers.
In the Shadow of the Palace: The Princess of Pushkar, Judith A Simpson
black dog books 2009
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review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author