The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

Moontrug has decided that she would very much like to be called Sophie. Sophies have ALL the adventures. Sophie from Roald Dahl’s BFG, Sophie from Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers, Sophie from Cathryn Constable’s The Wolf Princess. And it’s this last Sophie – Sophie Smith – who Moontrug is interested in today…

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On a school trip in Russia, Sophie and her two friends find themselves abandoned on a train. They are rescued by the glamorous Anna Volkonskaya, who takes them to her winter palace and mesmerises them with stories of lost diamonds and a tragic past. But as night falls and wolves prowl, Sophie discovers more than dreams in the crumbling palace of secrets…

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Overlooked by teachers, most of her peers and even her guardian, Sophie yearns for a different life – one filled with adventure, magic and, as she says to her friends, Delphine and Marianne, ‘and…a…p-pistol.’ And so when a glamorous Russian lady shows up one day at her school and Sophie and her friends find themselves in wintry Russia a few weeks later, Sophie feels as if her dream has come true. But Anna Volkonskaya’s palace is a place of terrible sadness. Why, when she has been told that there are no wolves left in that part of the country, can Sophie hear them howling at night? Who are the kind children living in the under palace and why has she been told not to speak to them? What dark secrets torment the princess? Why have the paintings been slashed and who has stolen the diamonds?

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The setting is wonderfully magical – beautiful, old-fashioned train carriages, snowy woods, icy lakes and glistening chandeliers – and it will lure in readers who loved Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Delphine provides the story with some brilliant one-liners (‘But what’s the point of being a princess unless you winter in Gstaad and spend the summer on Cap Ferrat?’) and Marianne’s sense of reason and logic provides a fantastic contrast to Sophie’s imaginative side. And to top all of that, the book boasts the very best setting for a conversation EVER: inside a glitteringly enormous chandelier. Moontrug was totally captivated by the magic of that scene… The plot moves with twists and turns as Sophie discovers more about the winter palace and its inhabitants and the final scenes are fantastically dramatic: pistols, wolves, ice, chases, prisons, fights. The story’s got it all! The Wolf Princess is a lovely book for 8-12 year olds, conjuring up the feel of classic children’s stories like those by Eva Ibbotson. Recommended.

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