Violet is a solid and steady farm girl who is afraid for her mother, who has been steadily coughing more and more. Her mother insists nothing is wrong, but Violet isn't quite sure she believes her.
But when she and her father find a bedraggled young man and an expensive horse in the middle of the road, nothing will do but they take the young man back to their home, as he has sustained a hard knock on the head, and will probably be sick after lying out all night in the rain. They take him for a noble, but it's more than they realize- he is actually Richard, Prince of the land.
He hasn't been around because his parents sent him on a trip around the kingdoms looking for a bride. They told him he must marry a sensitive princess, and had him invite all the princesses back to the Kingdom for a series of tests to choose his bride. Richard thought this was ridiculous, but being a dutiful son, he did as his parents asked.
Confined in her house with Violet, though, he soon comes to notice her finer qualities- how beautiful she is, how intelligent, and how she speaks her mind and won't be condescended to- not even by the Prince. As for Violet, she finds Prince Richard is handsome and generally not stuck up, and when he kisses her before they part, the world moves for her.
But he has to get home for the contest and the choosing of his bride. He wants Violet to be his bride- and he intends to tell his parents so, even if they would never allow it. But as Violet's mother grows ever more ill, the family fears for her life- and she makes a stunning confession to Violet- Violet is not her daughter. She is actually a Princess, the Princess of Cambria, hidden with their family when the entire royal family was murdered by the army of Lore.
Richard's family were the highest nobles left in the land, and with the entire Royal family dead, or so it was believed, they took over the reins of power to keep the country running. Now, to claim her birthright, her parents send her to the castle to fight for the man she loves.
She arrives at night, in a rainstorm, soaked to the skin, and is accepted into the competition by no less than the King and Queen themselves. But the contest is outright strange- the King and Queen have her selecting silk threads from cotton, moving across the grass and expecting her to have bleeding wounds on her feet, and even stranger tests, but despite the help of Richard, and a girl named Genevieve, another one of the Princesses at the castle, Violet is kept on tenterhooks as to whether she can pass the crazy tests and win Richard and the approval of his parents. But with the Princess of Lore standing in her way and declaring that *she* alone will win Richard, is Violet up to the challenges that stand in her way?
This book is a retelling of the Princess and the Pea, and the author has had to work hard to make the story make sense, because wanting a princess so very fragile that she gets cuts on the bottoms of her feet just from walking on the grass is simply absurd- how could such a princess be strong enough to carry an heir successfully to term, or for that matter, survive the marriage bed?
Vigué turns this idea neatly on its head by having the whole thing be a sham- tests hiding the *real* tests that the King and Queen are giving the Princesses, ones that determine what they truly want and need in the Princess of Cambria and the future ruler of the throne. Violet is very strongly drawn, and even with the tests, you can see her strengths in how she stands by the people she likes, loves and considers her friends, and how she makes friends easily. And quick-witted, too.
I enjoyed the book a lot, and the updating of the story with the "Explanations" of why these tests were happening made them seem real and not trite or hackneyed. I found myself really enjoying this book, and wanting to read the others as well, but sadly, my library doesn't have them. Recommended.