is a fantasy novel by Lloyd Alexander
Lloyd Chudley Alexander was a widely influential American author of more than forty books, mostly fantasy novels for children and adolescents, as well as several adult books...
that received an American Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...
. It is the first book of the Westmark trilogy, followed by The Kestrel
The Kestrel is the second book of Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy, following Westmark, and preceding The Beggar Queen. The trilogy is set in the fictional nation of Westmark, which resembles 18th-century Europe.-Plot summary:...
and The Beggar Queen
The Beggar Queen is the last book of the Westmark trilogy by Lloyd Alexander, published by E. P. Dutton in 1984.-Plot introduction:Mickle, once a common street urchin, is now the queen of Westmark. The kingdom is thriving, yet at the same time, it is strangely restless. Ghosts of the past lurk...
Showing influences from the French existentialist writers whose works Alexander translated early in his career, the series is far darker and more adult than Alexander's previous works such as The Chronicles of Prydain
The Chronicles of Prydain is a five-volume series of children's fantasy novels by author Lloyd Alexander...
. Although often classified as fantasy, there is no magic, nor any sign of any sort of religious belief, in Westmark,
or the succeeding volumes. It is set in a fictional country, however, though there are mentions to Upper Brasil and the Roman Pantheon.
Set in the fiction
Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical,...
al kingdom of Westmark in a time period approximately equivalent to the 18th century, it tells a story of political upheaval and revolution strikingly similar to the history of the French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...
, as seen through the eyes of a young printer's apprentice who goes on the run after his master is murdered. Westmark
leads directly into the second volume of the trilogy, The Kestrel.
It is a complicated and politically dangerous period in Westmark. The country's ruler, King Augustine IV, has slipped into dementia, depression and illness since the supposed death of his only child, the Princess Augusta, over six years ago. Despite the efforts of the Queen, Caroline, and the court physician, Dr. Torrens, the King is increasingly manipulated by his chief minister Cabbarus, who has designs on the throne. While the ill king is kept distracted by a series of mystics and charlatans who claim to be able to speak to his dead child, Cabbarus increases his control over Westmark, restricting freedoms and abusing the king's powers.
Young Theo, an orphan, has been raised by a small town printer named Anton. After the pair accepts a job from a travelling salesman they are investigated by Cabbarus' men, who declare their job illegal and proceed to destroy their press. In the ensuing scuffle and chase, Theo attacks a soldier and Anton is shot and killed.
With no one else to turn to, Theo takes to the countryside, eventually meeting up with the men who hired him and Anton for the printing job: Count Las Bombas, a con artist, and his dwarf driver/partner Musket. Theo joins up with them, rather reluctantly, and ends up participating in their money-making schemes. They eventually discover a girl named Mickle, a poor street urchin, who has a talent for throwing her voice and mimicry. The Count builds a charade around Mickle, dressing her up as the Oracle Priestess and putting her on display, claiming that she can speak to the spirits of the dead.
Theo, despite his growing affection for the bright but vulnerable Mickle, begins to find his new life too dishonest for his tastes and abandons the group, eventually falling in with Florian, an anti-monarchist and rebel who plans revolution with his band of loyal followers. Meanwhile, Mickle, Las Bombas, and Musket have been arrested for fraud, Cabbarus has attempted to have Dr. Torrens assassinated and a politically minded journalist, Keller, goes into hiding to save himself from Cabbarus' wrath.
Events come to a head when Theo plots to break his old companions out of prison, with help from Florian and his allies. Their reunion, however, does not last long; Cabbarus has tracked them down and has them all arrested. He brings the group to Juliana, the palace of King Augustine IV and Queen Caroline, where reveals his plans to the group and of how the "Oracle Priestess" will be his pawn to his uprising to the throne. While in Old Juliana, Mickle comes across a trapdoor leading to a water canal, and her memories race in her mind as she remembers her childhood. This leads to her high fever and Theo's worry of her having to act. Cabbarus presents the group to the King and Queen and the courtiers as the Oracle Priestes, and suddenly Mickle's long-repressed childhood memories come to the surface, revealing treason, attempted murder and corruption in the heart of the Westmark government. It is later revealed that Mickle is the long-lost Princess Augusta and that chief minister Cabbarus was responsible for her disappearance.
Eventually, on the subject of Cabbarus's punishment, Theo, on behalf of his conscience, sends him into exile, instead of killing him. This decision will have a major effect on the final book of the Westmark trilogy, The Beggar Queen.
Characters in Westmark
- Augustine IV – King of Westmark
- Caroline – Queen of Westmark
- Augusta – Princess
- Theo – young printer's apprentice, orphan and protagonist
- Cabbarus – manipulative chief minister to the King
- Mickle – poor street urchin
- Florian – an anti-monarchist and rebel
- Las Bombas – con man
- Dr. Torrens – court physician
- Musket – dwarf driver, partner to Las Bombas