By Dawn Cook.
This one has an amazing yet awful premise: what if your entire life has been a lie? What if the job you've been raised to do your entire life is taken away from you?* And what kind of sickos adopt a kid and raise her as their own to be the freaking princess and then are all, "Um, never mind, you're not actually the princess, you're just a ringer. Sorry! Oh yeah, you both have the same name too..."
As you can tell from the title of the book, this isn't a spoiler. The country of Costenopolie (I so keep wanting to say Constantinople, I suspect the author did too) is already riddled with assassins, and that was before "The Red Moon Prophecy" was spread around about the princess. Our narrator, 20-year-old Princess Contessa, thinks she's getting married to Prince Garrett of Misdev. But when the prince shows up early, demanding that they get married now, the king and queen are all "Um...this isn't the actual crown princess here. We just adopted this one as a decoy. The real princess has been raised at a nunnery, we told her about this a year ago, and she's the one that's been writing you letters. We'll just have to wait until she gets here." Naturally, nobody freaking told Tess, the girl who's been raised in the palace all her damn life... though I guess it explains all the artwork about a young blonde girl that decorates the place (Tess is a brunette).
Unfortunately, Tess finds this out right before Garrett slaughters her parents and starts taking over the country and making all kinds of nasty threats to her. However, Tess got brought up by Chancellor Kavenlow, who's taught her how to disappear, how to hide and escape, how to defend herself, and he's had her develop an immunity to iocaine powder venom.** The girl carries around poisoned venom hairpins and shoots them whenever she can, and gets the hell out of there. Garrett is obviously unhinged, but he's got a fairly loyal (at least to the actual Misdev king) and very smart captain of the guard, Jeck, who seems to admire Tess's skills, but will do whatever he has to do to do his job here.*** Tess gets away and has to figure out how to track down Kavenlow, who's gone to fetch the actual princess, and get him to stop the impending war that's about to erupt once people find out what's going on. She meets and partners with Duncan, a convicted thief/card cheat that Tess identifies as such, and they manage to forge a romantic-ish friendship despite their squabbling.
There's cool twists within the structure of the story, which I enjoyed (see spoiler space remarks). The book also mostly manages to handle the dilemma of "How do you cope with the girl who is literally going to take over your life from you?" I don't think it's a perfect handling, but I think it's about as good as you could possibly get under the circumstances, and the plot sets it up well enough that Tess will manage to go on doing... well, that would be spoiling. I enjoyed Tess as a badass trained heroine who may have been betrayed by her family, but she'll still do what she has to to save her country. I also enjoyed Jeck and Contessa (the original princess). I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Kavenlow and Tess's palace friend Heather, given their prominence in her life, but oh well.
So, four stars.