When I first bought my kindle, I wanted some books on it, but I didn’t want to pay for them (since I had just spent a bunch on the kindle). I was going through the free book list on kindle, and I saw some books by one of my favorite childhood authors, Frances Hodgson Burnett. Of course, I grabbed The Secret Garden, just to have it, but I also downloaded a book of hers that I had not yet read, The Lost Prince. (It’s still available for free on kindle, by the way.)
The main character, Marco, is a boy (early teens) who lives with his father in a poor area of London. The pair is in exile from their home country, Samavia, which is in political turmoil. Marco’s father, Stefan, has raised him to be a patriot, even though Marco has never been to Samavia. Marco meets and befriends a crippled boy known only as “The Rat.” Together, the two boys imagine fighting for Samavia and concoct intricate plots involving restoring The Lost Prince, a mythical figure who is the rightful heir to the throne of Samavia.
By now you have probably guessed the “big surprise” of the book. Nonetheless, I’ll continue the review. It is impossible for me to review this book other than with reference to Burnett’s other, better-known books that I loved as a child: The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and A Little Princess. The common theme of these books is a child in wretched circumstances who, by the end of the book, is in a situation better than could have ever been imagined by anyone anywhere. This book follows that same pattern. The difference is first that there is no suspense whatever. Second, the children in her more popular books (at least the girls) grow through their difficulties. Marco is perfect throughout the book, so he isn’t very interesting. The Rat is much more interesting, but he is never allowed to be more than a supporting character.
The other major flaw in the book is the intrusion of some strange religious beliefs. Burnett herself was a well-known religious seeker, especially after the death of her oldest son. She was, at different times, a Christian Scientist, a theosophist, and a spiritualist. The religion that crops up in this book wasn’t recognizable to me, but it had to do with a spiritual source of power known as “The One” and implied (perhaps Buddhist?) doctrines of peace, fearlessness, and destiny. There are sections of the book that go into these beliefs in an almost sermon-like way — not quite as bad as Ayn Rand, but nearly so.
In spite of the problems I’ve mentioned, I found myself caring what happened to the boys and looking forward to the revelation of the “secret” which every reader knows from the first few pages (or before, if you have read this review). The real payoff of Burnett’s books is the ending, where “happy” would be a severe understatement, and this book didn’t disappoint. I was reading the final few chapters while on the elliptical, and in spite of my exertion, I actually found myself with chills at one point. Any book that can give me chills must have something to recommend it! Bottom line: Don’t read this book until you have read her better books. If you still haven’t gotten enough Burnett, this one is fine. It would be fine for kids, as long as you don’t mind your kids praying to The One now and then.