I have reviewed the first two stories – A Bob and a Weave and Bookworms, and now for story three. I have been told that this is the best story in terms of characterisation, so I am wondering if I will agree.
The plot of The Secret Princess
Sunita has turned up five weeks into the term which is apparently unusual enough for the girls to question her. She tells them that her mother was ill and that delayed their travel but the girls are having none of it.
Alicia jumps rather far to the conclusion that she is a princess in disguise. Sunita then stalks in, acting every part the spoiled princess and carries it off well enough that even I wondered if Alicia had seen something before that evidenced the truth. But no – Sunita’s just a joker and had overheard Alicia’s conversation.
Alicia then notices that Gwen is eavesdropping and carries on the charade.
This is one of those plots that requires everything to align perfectly or it all falls apart. Firstly, Gwen has to have missed Sunita saying she is not a princess just a minute before, and then she has to keep it a secret that she knows as Alicia doesn’t tell the rest of the girls – or Sunita herself – until the next morning.
Sunita is naturally disappointed that Gwen only wants to be her friend because she thinks she’s a princess, but she agrees to carry on the joke for a while. She has another joke up her sleeve as well, a small vial of chemicals which produce violet smoke when mixed with water. This sounds exactly like the sort of tricks Blyton came up with herself, and coloured smoke appears in several mystery/adventure books as well.
All this makes Gwen wonder if Sunita is really a princess and so she manages to get Irene – distracted by composing – to admit it is a trick. It all becomes a bit Friends now – but they don’t know that we know that they know – as Gwen pretends not to know the truth.
For revenge she plays the smoke trick herself – after the girls decide to wait until after half-term – and uses far too much of the crystals as she did not overhear the warning that they only need a little.
Miss Grayling witnesses the smoke and quickly sees that Sunita is not guilty – while the girls argue amongst themselves as to whether it was Sunita or someone else, but who? Gwen is found out as Irene actually remembered their conversation and is punished with French prep during the hols, but what’s worse is that Sunita’s parents arrive in a swanky limousine as it turns out her father is a famous scientist. So poor Gwen misses out again.
How does it compare to the originals?
As with the review of A Bob and a Weave I will look at four key points:
- Is it set in the same time, and is it updated in any way?
- Does it fit with the continuity of the series?
- Are the characterisations consistent?
- Does the author attempt to adopt Blyton’s writing style, and if so is that successful?
The setting and updates
As with the previous two stories this is set at the same time, though it isn’t always hugely apparent. There are no gramophones or anything that heavily dates the book like pre decimal currency. They do earn order marks, though, which if something I always feel is quite of the time.
Malory Towers reopened five weeks before this story, after the summer holidays, so that would place this near the start of their third year. This is backed up by the girls saying remember when we were in the second form and that Sunita is best at science in the third form.
Third Year at Malory Towers begins in January, so after the events of this book, but of course Sunita doesn’t appear.
There are teachers mentioned that don’t exist in the original books – Miss Myers who teaches science, Mr Conway for maths. The science is of relevance to the plot but the maths is not.
Alicia is better written in this book, and her motivations are more realistic. She makes a great comment to Gwen;
Fish is good brain food, Gwendoline Mary. And if anyone needs brain food, it’s you.
Incidentally that had me wondering how far back the idea that fish is good for brain development goes. I know it has been a ‘thing’ for the past twenty years or so, but does it go back as far as the 1940s? I’ve had a look at some 1940s adverts for fish cakes, fish fingers and so on and although some of them are promoting themselves as being good for you, there’s no mention of the benefits to the brain.
Irene is described as tall with untidy fair hair which is not how I picture her, but I’m not sure if her looks are ever described in the books. Regardless, Irene is well written, there’s a few lines about her having lost an essay that is due in, and her preoccupation with music too.
Mam’zelle is also well written. Having worked herself into a panic over the smoke she declares We must fly for our lives. She does work out it’s a trick, though and declares that I, Mam’zelle Dupont, will discover the origin of this so-purple smoke. And if it is a terrible treek then you shall all be punished most severely which is so Mam’zelle.
I would say that this is written in a style fairly close to Blyton’s but it doesn’t seek to mimic her exactly. There isn’t really the ‘frightfully golly gosh’ language of the last story, but the girls’ conversations are still well written.