The Adventure of Princess Sylvia / Princess Virginia

June 18, 2013

So, yeah, The Adventure of Princess Sylvia and Princess Virginia (the latter credited to both Williamsons, the former to Alice) are the same book. According to this advertisement, Sylvia is the original and Virginia is the revision. But, contrary to the advertisement’s assertion, it hardly qualifies as a new story.

Almost everyone’s names are changed, as are some nationalities. The Ruritanian country of Rhaetia retains its name, but its emperor is now Leopold rather than Maximilian. And Princess Virginia adds some American blood to Sylvia’s mix of English and German. Things are a little more up to date — it’s a different English monarch that provides the heroine and her mother with a home, and there’s a sprinking of automobiles in Virginia that aren’t present in Sylvia. The dialog is a little snappier (as Jenn pointed out), and there are places where the plot has been smoothed over a little, making it seem less as if A.M. Williamson made it up as she went along. If you’re going to read one of these, Virginia is better, but again: same book.

Sylvia/Virginia is the daughter of a dead German Grand Duke, brought up in England by her English/half English mother. She hero-worships the young Emperor of Rhaetia, and plans never to marry, since she couldn’t bear to marry anyone but him. Except then it turns out that the Emperor — or at least his Chancellor — thinks she would be a very suitable wife for him.

You would think Sylvia/Virginia would be happy about that, but no — she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. She wants Max/Leo to fall in love with her. So she and her mother, plus a governess and a French maid, set out for Rhaetia incognito to give him a chance to do just that. And then, you know, hijinks ensue, including a final twist I saw coming a mile away but enjoyed more than the rest of the book anyway.

And, you know, it’s fine. I read it in one sitting, and then I basically read it again. But the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get, because the whole thing seems kind of ridiculous and unnecessary. I mean, talk about first world problems, right?

Look at it this way: you’re Sylvia/Virginia. You’re a princess. The guy you have a crush on wants to marry you, but instead of congratulating yourself on your good luck, you decide that not only is this the only man in the world you’re willing to marry, you’re only wiling to marry him once you know he would have fallen in love with you even if he hadn’t already decided you were going to get married. That’s…convoluted and crazy, right? And also not something a princess raised on the idea of an arranged marriage would come up with?

It’s just…she keeps putting him through these tests. She has to see how he behaves when he doesn’t know who she is, and how he behaves when he thinks she doesn’t know who he is. And then, even when she’s sure he’s in love with her, she won’t drop the masquerade until he’s actually said it. Only the dialogue that follows doesn’t quite match the dialogue she’d imagined, so everyone gets a chance to be stupid for a little longer. I understood why Sylvia/Virginia was insulted by the offer the Emperor makes, but she spent so much time creating openings for him to mess up that eventually there was going to be a test he wouldn’t pass.

There were so many times Sylvia/Virginia could have just gone home, assured of a happy ending, and she just wouldn’t. And Max/Leo wasn’t much better. Deciding that everything important in your life should take second place to someone you’ve known for a week isn’t romantic, it’s irresponsible. And I don’t enjoy watching people make bad decisions.

And then the Chancellor is made to be the villain, which is crazy. All he’s trying to do is arrange for the actual marriage that’s supposed to take place between Sylvia/Virginia and the Emperor. Why is it wrong for him to discourage the Emperor’s attachment to Sylvia/Virginia’s alter ego? Why is it wrong for him to tell the Emperor that the girl is clearly lying to him when, you know, she is? Why be so offended by the idea that Sylvia/Virginia and her mother came to Rhaetia to entrap the Emperor, seeing as that’s exactly what they did? And obviously the Emperor doesn’t have the reader’s knowledge, but you know who does? A.M. Williamson.

So, yeah. When the Chancellor tells the Emperor he must be out of his senses, I can’t help but agree.



  1. I was trying to decide which of these to read but I think you’ve convinced not to read either one! I do like most of the books I’ve read by the Williamsons, though.

    • The Williamsons can be so great, and they’ve written some books I really love, but they’re not super conistent. On the other hand, this is one that probably a lot of people would enjoy more than I would.

      If you do read one, I think Princess Virginia is the way to go.

  2. They EL James’d their own book–genius! ;)

    • That was atually the first thing I thought of, too. :)

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