4 out of 5 stars for Prince Freya by Keiko Ishihara. I think this is an excellently drawn and well-plotted manga for someone who is not me. I like identity shenanigans. Really, I do. Secret identities, double lives, ordinary people who are in-game heroes, “office lady by day, assassin by night” – I’m there. So I was predisposed to like this one just from seeing it on the shelf and reading the back blurb. A supposedly regular girl taking the place of a prince to lead his knights in a desperate gambit; what’s not to like?
Well. The fact that the blurb is a bait-and-switch. So far Freya hasn’t gotten to lead anyone. Pulled off one or two daring bits of bluff as “Prince Edvard”, yes, but no leading.
On top of that, the closest officials who know the prince is actually dead are… gah. If you have a fragile, frightened person you need to play a role to keep your kingdom safe, who’s already lost one of the few people she loved, the way to get her best performance is not, “Do this or we’ll burn your village down.”
Freya-as-Edvard needs to act bold, carefree, and a proud leader of “his” people, and they think the right thing to do is terrify her.
On top of that if Edvard is so admired and respected, why is the cabinet talking over (her) every attempt to speak? Even if the most powerful man in the kingdom of Tyr has most of the ministers under his sway, for the prince to have the reputation he does Edvard should have more than just one general and his personal guard on his side.
The chief aide of said personal guard, Julius, is what really puts all my neck hairs on edge. Bullying and power-plays, fine – Julius is pure out-and-out psychological manipulation. Love bombing, gaslighting, isolating Freya from the one person who knows who she is that she trusts, constantly belittling her best efforts to play the prince – the mangaka can call him gorgeous, because yes, physically, he’s attractive. But all I can think is that old warning about predatory abusers. “Charm is a verb. It’s something someone does to you.”
It’s sad, because I really would like to know what happens next. Freya seems like a relatable character, and her friend Aleksi is tough, determined, and very much aware of how much further he has to go to be taken seriously as a royal guard.
But the psychological manipulation is just too much. This one’s going to have to go.