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Princess at Sea by Dawn  Cook
Review by Colleen Cahill
Ace Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0441014240
Date: 25 July, 2006 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Tess had been crown princess of Costenopolie but discovered she was actually the child of a beggar bought by the royal family as a decoy for assassins. Now she is not only ambassador for the country she loves, but she is an apprentice in a far larger game, one that controls Kings and Queens like chess pieces. Tess's most important pieces are her sister, Queen Contessa, and Prince Alex of Misdev, whose recent marriage to the Queen is intended to heal wounds between the two nations. The newlyweds are anything but romantic, even during they honeymoon voyage and Tess finds she must act as nursemaid and arbitrator between the feuding couple. She particularly wants to have a successful trip to make Kavenlow, her master in the game, proud of her and also to rub the nose of Jeck, a Misdev Captain and rival player in the game who is also sailing with the newlyweds. All this becomes minor politics after Tess, Contessa and Alex are kidnaped by pirates. Brutally treated and threatened with death, the royal couple are being held for ransom while Tess is a plaything for the crew. Their main hope for rescue is from Tess's friend Duncan, who has pretended to joined the pirates to watch for an opportunity for escape. The situation is made even more difficult after Tess is bitten by a punta, the animal that is the source of the poison she uses in her darts. The toxin has an unusual effect on Tess, in that it helps her but it could also remover her as player in the game.

As in The Decoy Princess, Tess spends a great deal of time trying to either escape or rescue herself and friends, but this is a different Tess from the first book. She has more self-confidence and is able to balance her new demands as ambassador and secret power-behind-the-throne fairly well. The danger and necessity of her situation brings forth new aspects of Tess, not just in dealing with the pirates, but also in her increasing magical abilities.

Cook continues to write believable characters and situations in this series, deftly showing the tensions in an arranged marriage, the pain and horror of being kidnaped, as well as the cost of careless choices and misplaced trust. She also builds a fascinating magic system, one based on being able to resist a poison. With touches of thriller, humor and romance, this series would be enjoyed by fans of Maria Snyder or Patricia Briggs. I certainly relished this fun read and am looking forward to the next installment.

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