Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Lost Prince - Frances Hodgson Burnett

'The Lost Prince' is another phone read and another Elaine Random Jottings recommendation. I'm not overly enamoured of reading on my phone but for books which are both very hard to get hold of on paper and free to read electronically it makes sense. When Elaine mentioned 'The Lost Prince' she described it as pure Ruritanian romance which served as a reminder that I'd never actually read 'The Prisoner of Zenda' (something I'm 3/4 of the way to rectifying) but it sounded like just the sort of thing to entertain without to much thought (which is what I've been in the mood for).

It wasn't clear when 'The Lost Prince' was set, it was published in 1915 but as Europe is open to travellers I'm assuming it's set sometime between 1900 - 1910, the atmosphere is indefinably Edwardian rather than Victorian. The hero of the book is Marco Loristan, he's 12 years old when the action opens, and just arriving back in London. He's had an odd upbringing for any boy, he and his father are exiles from Samavia (somewhere the other side of the Alps), and along with an old soldier called Lazarus they have spent all of Marco's life flitting between the great cities of Europe, always living incognito in the shabbier parts of town. Marco has grown up fluent in English, French, German, Russian, and of course Samavian. He's been taught to observe, is familiar with the great Art collections and libraries of every city he's lived in, and is generally not your average child. He's also unusually tall and good looking with a princely sort of bearing (we know where this is going even if Marco doesn't).

Meanwhile somewhere down a back ally Marco meets 'the rat' a crippled boy who has organised a rabble of street boys into a regiment. The rat's father was once a gentleman but is now a violent alcoholic who drinks himself to death in short order. Marco's father, Stefan, takes the rat in who in turn rewards him with the same hero worship Marco does. What follows is a mission across Europe for the two boys as they spread the word that Samovia's lost prince has been found.

The lost prince in question disappeared one morning 500 years previously at the beginning of what turned into a viciously bloody coup, since then a king has been trained and waiting for Samovia's call ever since and of all the possible faults I could find with this book that's the biggest. 500 years simply felt like to long, the secret society business, two young boys trekking across Europe, Burnett's take on Buddhism, and the boys own version of honour and romance I'm fine with.

On the other hand where Burnett really excels are the moments she puts Marco in genuine danger. It's not overdone and is quite honestly terrifying. It's not in the same league as 'A Little Princess' or 'The Secret Garden' but it obviously comes from the same stable and for Burnett fans is certainly worth seeking out (especially as it's available free).    


  1. I enjoyed The Prisoner of Zenda so much when I read it last year, so I'm intrigued by this one.

  2. It's fair to say it's not in the same league. An interesting book and a reasonably entertaining read but I can understand why it's no longer in print.