The Amazon blurb for Dawn Cook's THE DECOY PRINCESS sets up the premise in a nutshell: "Princess Contessa's dreams of living happily ever after marrying a prince are shattered when her 'parents' reveal that she's actually a street urchin they raised as their daughter to thwart assassins from their real target."
Tessa's first-person POV is entertaining but not particularly deep. She talks a lot about the angst of having her "parents" killed in front of her, but it's not backed up by reaction. There's no real romantic subplot, either -- Tessa is attracted to two different men, neither of whom she gets to know well enough to trust, and that's about it. The villain is cardboard; he might as well have a mustache to twirl.
I did like the fact that Tessa isn't merely a decoy; she turns out to have been taught some rather specialized skills by her mentor the chamberlain, who has been grooming her for another career all along. And Cook sets up an interesting twist in her quasi-monarchic world: the real power is held by "players, undercover wizard-spies who manipulate people and events from behind the thrones. The rules of this game weren't elaborated enough for my tastes -- why only one player per country, for example? -- but I suppose more will be made known in the sequel(s).
I didn't hate THE DECOY PRINCESS, but I didn't find it very appealing either, and that sort of book is always harder to talk about than one you loved or hated -- if it had been entertainingly awful (like the infamous venom book) it would have been easier to write a useful review. As it is I find myself struggling for something to say beyond the fact that THE DECOY PRINCESS held my attention for a few hours, but I don't expect to remember anything about it after a couple of weeks. Still, fans of Lackey and other light fantasies may want to give it a try despite my lukewarm review.--Danielle (22 Nov 05)