The Secret of Castle Cant
by K.P. Bath
Recommended Age: 12+
This is an odd, but enjoyable, “girl power” novel set in a tiny country located in the crease of all the maps. It takes place in the present day (or recent past), yet because the Barony of Cant is so isolated and tradition-oriented, the people there have but little experience of things like TV, T-shirts, tennis shoes, and video games. One recent arrival – chewing gum – has created a surprising amount of controversy.
Part of this may be that the chewing gum is exclusively imported by one man, who uses special ingredients and his influence with the government to make sure that only the rich and powerful can afford to chew it. And chew it is about all they do any more. The country is going to wrack and ruin, while the noblemen chew, chew, chew, and raise taxes on their citizens to buy more gum.
Things look grim for the Barony of Cant. The Baron is dying. There are vague questions about the succession to the throne. Vlad Orloff, the sinister chewing gum magnate, is determined to become the Regent, controlling the Baron’s young heir. And a handsome anti-chewing-gum activist named Arden Gutz is prepared to stage a revolution to ensure that his party (not a gum chewer among them) gets control.
Caught in the middle are a spoiled young princess named Pauline and her nearly-as-young, orphaned lady’s maid, Lucy Wickwright. Serving her spirited mistress is never easy, and the charismatic Arden Gutz makes a tempting offer...but when Lucy senses danger to Pauline, look out! With steely determination, moving loyalty, and self-sacrifice, Lucy becomes a surprising heroine.
This is a seriously unusual book. Lucy makes better choices than you would expect, while the people around her behave in an appalling and often absurd manner. As you navigate through this book, you always feel a bit wrong-footed because you feel like you’re in different centuries from one page to the next. But it’s an appropriate feeling, mirroring the confused, unsettled time in the lives of Lucy and Pauline.
UPDATE: I have seen, but not yet read, the sequel to this book, titled Escape from Castle Cant. All in good time!