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Whence our fascination with royalty? Back in my high school American History classes, I used to joke that ever since winning the Revolution, Americans have been trying their hardest to make the President into a king–a joke I find less and less funny as we are treated to ever-expanding executive power and a seemingly inevitable flip-flopping of dynasties–Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama interregnum, Clinton(?).
Whatever the historical case, it’s obvious that we Americans love entertainment about monarchs, whether it is high-brown Oscar-winning films like The King’s Speech and Return of the King, or more lurid TV fantasies like The Tudors and Game of Thrones. I chose those examples advisedly as the interest in royalty seems well split between historical fiction and high fantasy. And–what do you know?–today we review one example of each.
In The Shadow Queen, we have a historical piece set in the court of The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, primarily featuring the theatrical players but never skimping on the court intrigue. In Half a King, we have a fantasy which recalls Game of Thrones, particularly everyone’s favorite character, Tyrion Lannister.
GULLAND, Sandra. The Shadow Queen. 321p. charts. glossary. Doubleday. Apr. 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780385537520. LC 2013013829.
In 1651 France, Claudette and her family struggle to survive as players in the Theater—reviled by society as outcasts even as they are loved for the entertainment they provide. Scraping a life together, they travel from village to village, entertaining nobility and villager alike. In one of these villages Claudette comes into contact with Athénaïs, the beautiful daughter of the Duke de Montemart. Life on the road becomes harder after Claudette’s father dies suddenly and the young heroine provides the stability her broken-hearted mother needs by taking on odd jobs around the theater, and watching over her mentally challenged brother. From behind the curtain one evening, Claudette again sees Athénaïs, who remembers their earlier encounter and takes Claudette in as her “personal attendant”. Athénaïs uses Claudette to help her plot her way through the affections of the Sun King: Louis XIV. The protagonist is forced to rely on her own acting skills to navigate the behind-the-scenes treachery that pervades the King’s Court. Students who love the theater will be fascinated by the history of the French theater presented here. Molière, Racine, playwrights, actors, stagecraft, and invention: all provide the backdrop and story within which Claudette lives. She finds out that not all acting is done on the stage, and must balance the often grotesque and surreal world of the Theater with the lavish—and often equally grotesque—world of Court.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA
ABERCROMBIE, Joe. Half a King. 352p. (Shattered Sea). Del Rey. Jul. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780804178327. LC 2014017107
Yarvi, the son of the king, is training to be a minister, the king’s chief advisor. He unexpectedly finds himself thrust onto the throne after his father and brother are murdered. Yarvi is called half a king because of his disability—he has only one good hand, the other having just the stub of a finger. Yarvi’s jealous uncle lures him into a trap, planning to kill him so he can take Yarvi’s place on the throne. He barely survives the assassination attempt; left badly beaten and needing to hide his identity, the protagonist is found by a warrior and sold into slavery. He is forced to be an oarsman on a trading ship captained by a brutal drunkard. A shipwreck gives him and several other slaves the chance to escape. Yarvi was despised by his father and bullied by his brother, and never wanted to be king. Now his thirst for revenge and his toughening through surviving slavery and other trials drive him back to his homeland to claim his birthright. Though physically challenged, his wit and skills in languages and negotiating are strong, allowing him and his fellow slaves—who are surprisingly skilled at fighting—to handle the many obstacles between them and revenge. Fans of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones will no doubt think of Tyrion Lannister as they read about Yarvi. Dramatic exploits, multiple betrayals, some elegant plot twists, and no shortage of humor make this a sure winner with fans of fantasy and adventure.—Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA
About Mark Flowers
Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark
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