Principal Role ( by Lorna Hill)

As a young teenager, I very much enjoyed the first four books in Lorna Hill's 'Sadler's Wells' series about young ballet dancers. I knew there were further books in the series, but they were not in print at the time.

In recent years, they evidently came into print again, as I've managed to acquire a few more of her books, in paperback, from charity shops. Unfortunately, they've all been somewhat disappointing, not living up to the promise of the first four.

I picked up 'Principal Role' recently, very inexpensively, and decided to read it for some light entertainment after a somewhat heavier novel. I like children's fiction, and find it good for relaxing.

This is the ninth in the Sadler's Wells series, and while it wasn't a bad read, it wasn't very inspiring. The somewhat unlikely story is about Fazia, Crown Princess of a small European country, but currently in exile.

The book opens in Switzerland, where she longs for freedom but is cooped up with her bodyguard, and - after a while - a nice young English governness called Elizabeth. Fazia is extremely good at ballet, and is destined for the Royal Ballet School in London in September; however she is not passionate about ballet at all, just seeing it as one more thing she has to learn because her brother, the King, insists.

In somewhat unlikely circumstances, after a series of mild scares, Fazia and Elizabeth bump into Timothy, the likeable son of a Vicar who featured in one or two of the previous books, and who is in love with another ballet dancer.

Then the action moves to London, when Fazia moves there, and also to a small mining village in the North of England, where Timothy lives. The story brings in several characters from previous books, whom I vaguely remembered; however this would probably be rather confusing (not to mention pointless) for anyone who had not read the others.

The style is fairly rushed, and the characters are pretty flat. In the earlier books, Lorna Hill wrote in the first person, so we got far more of an insight into some of the individuals. But this book is written from several third person perspectives, and it really doesn't work all that well.

It's not a bad book - if one forgets how very unlikely the basic plot is - but I'm not sure who it would appeal to. The style is that of children's books, yet the main character is 15, and the issues - such as they are - would probably not be of much interest to young children. I suppose it's really only appropriate for people like me who remember the series fondly from childhood.

No longer in print anywhere, apparently, but sometimes available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 29th November 2008

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