Monday, July 9, 2018


by Lloyd Alexander
Recommended Ages: 12+

The Kingdom of Westmark is primed to explode. King Augustine, rendered senseless by grief since his daughter's mysterious demise six years ago, spends all his time searching for a spiritualist able to put him in touch with the late Princess Augusta. Effectively ruling the kingdom as his chief counselor is the villainous Cabbarus, who disposes of anyone who threatens his power without the inconvenience of a trial. The king's only faithful adviser, his personal physician, has been banished and, for good measure, followed to the docks by one of Cabbarus's hand-picked assassins. Cabbarus wants to be king in name as well as in effect, but a few persistent obstacles remain in his way. Meanwhile, a rebellion is stirring, led by a charismatic nobleman's son named Florian.

Unwillingly caught up in it all is a virtuous young printer's devil named Theo, who flees from an arrest warrant and takes refuge in the coach of a traveling mountebank named Count Las Bombas, his dwarf servant Musket, and a half-starved, sexless urchin named Mickle, who has a particular talent for throwing her voice. Together, in spite of the urgings of Theo's conscience, they set up a phony medium show where townspeople pay hand over fist to hear from their late loved ones. Inevitably, their success reaches the ears of Cabbarus, who forms a new plan to seize power around them. Hedged in on the other side by rebels who want to put to the test Theo's vow not to kill people, the gentle friends may have no choice but to take part in a brutal struggle for power.

This is a thin, quick-paced, warm-hearted example of a story shape Lloyd Alexander has written before: a road trip with tender romance, danger, intrigue, secret identities, and friendships unexpectedly growing up between straight-arrow types and people of questionable character. It features tests of courage, ethical conflicts, warring political philosophies, issues of civil rights and social justice, clear-cut villains and ambiguous heroes. It's an enjoyable book, maybe even a spiritually moving one. If it isn't, after all, much different from places Alexander has taken you before, take note: this book has a sequel. Two sequels, in fact: The Kestrel and The Beggar Queen. I'm reading the former already, and I can categorically say that Westmark is worth the reading, at least to introduce you to an even bigger adventure to follow.

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