Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long
The Lost Prince is not one of Burnett’s well known titles. The Little Princess and The Secret Garden are those that spring to mind when this author’s name is mentioned and The Lost Prince seems to have been outshone by its more popular rivals. This is a shame as it is sheer delight to read.
I first came across it many years ago in the children’s section of a secondhand book shop. It was a tatty, battered old paperback with an eye catching cover of young handsome boy in a Ruritanian style uniform. Intrigued, I picked it up read the first page and that was it, I was off. I sat on the floor and read several chapters before realising it would make sense to buy it and go home and read in comfort, which I did.
I was simply enchanted by this story and have remained so throughout the years of multiple readings. Marco Loristan has come to London with his father and a family retainer. His mother is dead and his childhood has been spent living in various cities across the world, never staying for long in one place and always with the feeling that life is dangerous for them. He has no friends as he has never stayed long enough in one place to form such relationships and he has to always, always watch what he says and does.
His father is from a small European country, Samavia, which is being fought over by rival factions, the royal family having long been deposed and hunted down. A legend exists that somewhere there is a Lost Prince, a prince in waiting through the generations, father to son learning to be ready when Samavia needs help.
Now it won’t take the reader more than five minutes to realise who Marco Loristan is, so I am not worried about giving away the ending here, but this story is more than just a fairy tale about a lost prince. It is also about friendship, the friendship between two lonely boys.
Marco meets the Rat, so called because he is a street boy with crippled legs who scutters about on a low trolley with wheels. He is the son of a ‘gentleman’, now a drunk, who has fallen on hard times, and they both live in poverty. Despite this the Rat (his real name is Ratcliffe) will not give in and become just another thief and low life criminal who will inevitably end up in prison. He has a strong will and great strength of mind and he gathers round him a gang of boys who he trains in the art of marching and soldiery. And one day, while exploring, Marco finds them:
The Rat sat up straight on his platform. There was actually something military in the bearing of his lean body. His voice lost his squeak and its sharpness became commanding.
He put the dozen lads through the drill as if he had been a smart young officer. And the drill itself was prompt and smart enough to have done credit to practiced soldiers in barracks. It made Marco involuntarily stand very straight himself and watch with surprised interest.
The Rat reads newspapers and is fascinated by Samavia and the fighting and the politics of the country and he and Marco become friends, two isolated young boys who need companionship, the Rat because he has never know any love or kindness in his life, Marco because he has never had time to forge such a friendship.
This relationship, and the relationship that Marco has with his father, form the heart of this wonderful story. The Rat becomes part of this family in time and when the moment comes when Samavia needs them, they embark on a perilous and exciting mission together as they make their way across Europe to the country which they both love.
I simply cannot tell you how much I love The Lost Prince. If you have never read it before I am filled with envy that you have that first thrill of joy and discovery ahead of you. Nothing beats that feeling.
This is one of my all time favourite books and I hope it becomes one of yours also.
Elaine blogs at http://randomjottings.typepad.com
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Lost Prince (Hesperus Minor, London, 2014) 978-1843915232, paperback, 220 pages.