Anyone who knows their fifteenth century European history will recognize the story that inspired this book. Imagine if King Richard III lived. Imagine that in 1485 he walked off the field of battle instead of having his corpse dragged through the streets. Names, places and events have changed. Magic has been added. But the underlying story is still the same.
King Severn Argentine has taken control of the throne. He is accused of murdering his young nephews to take the throne. He’s accused of murdering his wife, his child, his brother and as many other atrocities as his enemies and the populace can dream up. He lives up to his fearsome reputation. He destroys his enemies and those who have betrayed him. He takes their children hostage and destroys entire families. He belittles, degrades, ridicules and keeps his subjects in constant fear. The Duke of Kiskaddon gambled and backed the wrong horse. He failed to come to his King’s aid and for that, he has been ordered to prove his loyalty. He must send one of his children to be fostered by the king, kept as hostage in exchange for the Duke’s loyalty. If the Duke fails, his child dies.
Owen spends much of his time learning the castle and grounds, trying to escape his keeper. He also spends a large amount of time in the kitchen where he has made fast friends with the cook and her husband. He has a box of tiles that he sets up in intricate patterns and then with one push, the chain reaction knocks them all down in turn. This is where he meets his first true friend and ally in the castle, Evie. He also meets the woman who is going to help him save his life and become indispensable to King Severn. He meets Ankarette, the Queen’s Poisoner. She had been tasked by the former Queen (who is now in sanctuary) to get rid of King Severn, but she failed. She was thought to be dead, but is back once again in the castle, this time she is tasked with saving Owen’s life.
Ankarette has a plan to save Owen, one that will not only save his life but possibly the lives of his family. Not only that, it may bring him to the point where the King can’t do without having Owen by his side.
There is plenty of intrigue and action in this book. It was fun for me to read, already knowing the history of King Richard III and seeing the parallels to King Severn. The characters were fun too, especially Mancini. He was definitely the comic relief! Many of the characters are not well rounded or their appearance is not very well explained. There are some conspiracies that seem to be going on that aren’t well explained to the reader and don’t go anywhere in this novel, but seem to be setting up for sequels.
My biggest problem with the book was the fact that the main character is an eight year old. I know that this is a fantasy book and that it’s possible for younger children to be wise beyond their years, especially those who have magical abilities. But other than that, it was a nice little fantasy novel. I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel to see what happens to Owen and Evie.