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The Children of the King

Review

The Children of the King

Jeremy and Cecily Lockwood are two privileged English siblings who, with their mother, flee the London Blitz for their Uncle Peregrine’s estate in the northern countryside, leaving their government-employed father with his work in the city. At 14, Jeremy thinks himself much too grown up to still be treated like a child, and resents his parents for removing him from London, where he believes he could be useful to his father and the war effort. Twelve-year-old Cecily, on the other hand, has no interest in the war effort. She will miss her father terribly, but is excited to stay in the house where she passed so many happy summers. She is especially excited when, upon disembarking the train with her mother and brother, she sees other London evacuee children in the station waiting for charitable villagers to take them in for the duration of the war. After some persuasion, Mrs. Lockwood sends Cecily to choose one child to take with them to Heron Hall.
 
Cecily chooses May Enid Bright, a solemn 10-year-old girl with an independent spirit and wisdom won from terrible grief. Spoiled, selfish Cecily cannot understand May Bright’s tendency to leave on her own and explore Heron Hall and its extensive grounds. But when Cecily follows May out and across the stream one morning, they discover the marble ruins of a once-grand castle --- and within that castle, two pale, secretive boys with long hair and funny clothing.
 
Though the four children argued when they met (mostly due to Cecily’s suspicious nature and sense of entitlement), Cecily must know more, and asks her uncle about the history of the ruined castle. And so, after supper, Uncle Peregrine begins telling the story of a King, a Duke and the seductive, corrupting influence of power. As tension builds within the family in Uncle Peregrine’s story and within the Lockwoods’ own family, Jeremy, Cecily and May learn about much more than the ruined castle --- they discover truths about themselves and the tenuous power they wield.
 
The book perfectly captures the multitude of frustrations that arise when a person --- especially a young person --- loses control over his or her own life.
 
A coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of two wars in English history, THE CHILDREN OF THE KING skillfully weaves together the large-scale conflict of war with the smaller-scale conflicts between its characters. By exploring the beginning of World War II and the end of the Wars of the Roses together, THE CHILDREN OF THE KING makes the realities of power, war and consequences plain without being too intense for middle-grade readers, and invites further discussion.
 
Jeremy, Cecily, and May are each unique and interesting in his or her own way. Jeremy, with his desire to understand and influence the suddenly disordered world around him, will seem very familiar to readers who are growing up and beginning their attempts to impact the “real world.” Cecily is somewhat unlikeable --- especially at first --- but readers slowly learn that her self-absorption comes from a real fear of abandonment, and that her tendency to say precisely the wrong thing cannot completely obscure her underlying desire to be good. Quiet, unpretentious May is sure to be a favorite because of her maturity, intelligence and desire for adventure. The interactions between the children are a genuine depiction of the small kindnesses and petty cruelties of children whose worlds have collapsed and will continue to collapse further. The book perfectly captures the multitude of frustrations that arise when a person --- especially a young person --- loses control over his or her own life.
 
The writing is evocative and engrossing, with clever wordplay and imagery and not the slightest hint of condescension.  Hartnett expects her readers to think for themselves, which independent readers will appreciate.  This appealing, intelligent style and compelling historical narrative makes THE CHILDREN OF THE KING an excellent book to read aloud.

Reviewed by Quinn Colter on April 9, 2014

The Children of the King
by Sonya Hartnett