The Lost Prince (by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

Frances Hodgson Burnett was a children's writer at the start of the 20th century. She's probably best known for 'The Secret Garden', but is also remembered by many for 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' and 'A Little Princess'. These three books remain in print, while her other novels are much less well known.

However as they're now out of copyright, I was pleased to discover that they have been made available online, and also in e-book format for the Kindle. I've just finished reading 'The Lost Prince'. It's a story which, apparently, is loosely based on fact, and set in Victorian London. It features an imaginary Eastern European country called Samavia, which has struck at the imagination of many citizens due to ongoing political problems.

Marco, the young protagonist of the book, has been brought up as a Samavian patriot by his father, despite never having been to their native country. He is observant and intelligent, and knows when to be quiet. He and his father, and their servant Lazarus, live in a poor house, often not having enough to eat. But Lazarus still insists on maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness and service.

Marco, who is encouraged to get to know the surroundings of wherever he is living, becomes friendly with a disabled street urchin known as 'the Rat'. Possibly the most unlikely part of the story was the Rat's obsession with Samavia, which he had read about in the papers, and the military way he 'drills' a group of other street boys who are less well educated than he is. The Rat eventually becomes Marco's aide-de-camp when the two boys travel across Europe to give a 'sign' that will start a revolution in Samavia.

The eventual ending was obvious from fairly early in the book - I assume the reader is meant to know, as there are so many clues - and I felt that there was rather too much description and philosophising for modern tastes. Still, it's quite an exciting adventure, if one doesn't mind suspending reality slightly more than usual for a non-fantasy book, and surprisingly modern in much of its outlook.

Recommended in a low-key way for anyone who likes other books by this writer, or who enjoys adventure stories set a hundred or so years ago.

Links are to paperback editions of this book, which is regularly in print (or widely available second-hand) but Kindle and other e-book editions are also available, either at Amazon or Project Gutenberg.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 25th February 2011

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