Nine-year-old Sophia daydreams about the beautiful Princess Polly and the fairytale land of Polldovia. One day she finds herself inhabiting this fantasy world but a very different one to that she has so far imagined.
She and Polly are in Suspyria, Polldovia’s war-ravaged neighbour, ruled by the warlord Naberius and his monstrous Dark Army. Imprisoned in Naberius’ fearful dungeon, escape is their only means of survival and a hair-raising chase ensues.
Their quest is to find a magical flower, the only thing that can defeat Naberius and save Polldovia from being destroyed at the hands of his soldiers. With the help of Acanthus, their magical and faithful steed, Polly and Sophia are caught up in a race against time and must use all their strength and bravery to outrun their pursuers…
The Race for Polldovia is a charming middle grade novel for children on the younger side of that age scale. It’s a portal narrative where Sophia follows the adventures of Princess Polly in a land she believes to be just something drawn from her imagination. I liked that aspect and while younger children might not get the context of how Sophia’s extended adventure in Polldovia came about, to older readers this is quickly apparent. As such it’s a layered reading experience that will keep it interesting for both the children and the parents reading the book with them.
Sophia is sweet and brave, but also young and inexperienced, almost stumbling into the realisation that she is brave and that she can be as courageous and steadfast as Polly. The latter initially came off as a little too good to be true, but Polly grew on me and there is definitely more to her than just the perfect princess Sophia thinks her at the beginning of the story. I especially loved the slow reveal of the true connection between Sophia and Polly and its eventual resolution. I also like that Polly is not just lovely and dutiful, she’s also brave and quite cunning. In contrast, Naberius, the villain of the piece, is rather one-dimensional and comes off as none too bright. In addition, Polly can talk to horses and has a Noble Steed. I have a huge weakness for Noble Steeds, especially if they are of the talking variant, so Acanthus was a win in my book.
While there are definitely some lovely character and emotional notes, The Race for Polldovia is very much a quest-style adventure and that adventure is key to the story. However, this is also where the narrative lets itself down a bit. For a story so reliant on its plot, the plot is rather linear and a little predictable. Then again, given its fairy tale sensibilities and the fact that it follows the portal tale trope quite closely, this shouldn’t be surprising and for a child who hasn’t encountered it (as often) before, this probably won’t be the drawback it was for me.
The ending of the book raised all sorts of questions. Was it truly all a daydream, one that was intensified due to Sophia falling ill? Or was it real and did Sophia become ill because of her being drawn into Polldovia? My cynical brain says the former, but the child in me hopes it is the latter. There are several other questions I’ll not go into so as not to spoil them; ones that aren’t answered outright, but whose answers are left to the reader’s interpretation. I appreciated this as they could serve as interesting discussion points after finishing the book.
On the whole, I rather liked The Race for Polldovia and I know that the seven or eight-year-old me would have loved it. In fact, I’d read this story to my own girls once they get to the appropriate age and if their English comprehension is good enough to understand the story easily. The Race for Polldovia is a charming tale divided into short chapters which make it ideal for story-time reading before bed.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.