I really enjoyed this Agata, Princess of Iberia by Emma C Buen and I highly recommend it. There are many elements that are key to making this such a good read. First, is the character development. Second, is the realistic story line. Third, is the dialog. Fourth, is the pace of the story.
First, the characters are so believable, from the dog to the princess, the reluctant prince to the staunch soldier. I love the depth of the characters in that the reader cannot always tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” and the “bad guys” aren’t all bad. The largest character development is obviously the protagonist, Princess Agata. She matures well, but still makes mistakes both logically and emotionally. Her character is bigger than life, but believable. It is the little details that create such a believable characters. For example, a sweet boy is suddenly mute, symptomatic of PTSD, but it is handled as just a matter of course, because what else can you do living in a cave?
Second, just as the characters are believable so is the storyline. The greatest unrealistic action was the daring escape in the beginning of the book, but had that not occurred, there would be no story. Aside from this fantastic escape, there is a healthy dose of realism with women who are sore and tired as they learn new skills, a fear of exploring underground tunnels because starving to death, lost in the dark, sounds terrible, and the pleasure in the confidence of a dog.
Third, the conversation is often what moves the story along giving both background and summary of action. Moreover, the conversations often add urgency to the story. Without that urgency, the storyline purpose would seem meaningless. The actual dialog is believable and often humorous.
Fourth, the pace is excellent. Any little diversion from the main plotline was completely believable as what would actually happen. The diversions due to hurt feelings, distrust, and fears completely make sense, but the point of the story is never lost.
I recommend this story for any public library or classroom. The reading is quick and easy for the YA audience. It is not a good fit for someone looking for a fairytale story of a princess in a castle, but for someone looking for a strong protagonist overcoming crazy odds with the support of a faithful dog.