The Children of the King is set during World War II. And it's set in ENGLAND during World War II. There is every reason in the world, why I should love and adore this one.
Cecily and Jeremy and their mom evacuate to the country; since London is fast becoming much too dangerous, they've evacuated to the family's country estate, Heron Hall. They will live with Uncle Peregrine. On their journey, they see hundreds of other children also evacuating. Unlike Jeremy and Cecily, these kids are going to live with strangers. Cecily resents that they're on the same train. "While she pitied the evacuees, part of her wished they had been on a different train so she wouldn't have had to see them and be weighed down by their plight. She had troubles of her own." (17) But oddly enough--unless you've cheated and read the jacket--Cecily decides by the end of the journey that she just HAS to have ONE of these children. She WANTS to choose herself. She examines the children carefully and slowly. She settles on the one that--by appearances at least--will suit her best. She chooses a girl named May.
May, Cecily, and Jeremy. Three kids that, for the most part, are so different from one another. Sometimes their worlds touch: they interact well with each other and seem to enjoy one another's company. And other times, it's selfishness times three.
Jeremy is fourteen. He is ANGRY and scared and perhaps ashamed that he's scared? He feels he has something to prove. He does NOT want to be in the country. He does not want to be stuck with Cecily and May. They may need the safety and comfort of the country. But not him. He's a man, well, almost. Surely, Jeremy is brave enough and strong enough and stubborn enough to think and act independently.
Cecily. Is she simple or complex? I just can't make up mind. On the one hand, she's selfish and bossy and inconsiderate. On the other hand, what she says may not reflect how she feels. She may be hiding how the war is effecting her. Her fears and doubts might be to blame. I did not really like her very much.
May won't be bossed around for long. Cecily may have picked her out like a pet; Cecily may think she's the boss, but, May is more than capable of standing up for herself and doing exactly what she wants. When Cecily and May accept one another as somewhat equals, there is some peace. But instant friends they are not. Still Cecily and May spend over half the novel in each other's company. It is Cecily and May who spend all their time investigating "Snow Castle;" Cecily and May who discover the two strange boys living in the castle ruins. Cecily and May who keep a secret from all the grown-ups.
I will be honest. I didn't exactly "like" any of the children. I did enjoy, however, Uncle Peregrine! He seems to be just what these three children need. He seems to be the only adult there who understands the children deeply. Peregrine is a storyteller. He tells these three children a story. This story takes weeks to tell. He tells just a little at a time, always leaving them wanting more. He does have a way with words.
For better or worse, the story Peregrine tells is of Richard III and the princes in the tower. He does not call the man in the story, Richard III, he calls him Duke. But to adult readers especially, it is clear how his "story" fits into history. Peregine's story, unfortunately, is ambiguous in all the wrong ways. Richard III is clearly the murderer. (Boo, hiss!) In his ambiguous telling, he offers the possibility that the boys were saved, after all, that they were taken to the country to hide for the rest of their lives. And since these two princes match up oh-so-closely with May and Cecily's strange new friends living in the ruins, readers are led to believe this is where their ghosts dwell after all.
I would have much preferred Hartnett to be ambiguous with the identity of the murderer, to at least consider that others had equally strong motives. If Richard himself had hid the children away in the country, it would have been a more enjoyable ghost story.
I typically like World War II stories. I don't usually like ghost stories. Does the fact that the ghosts are the princes of the tower make me change my mind? I'm still thinking on it.
I do appreciate the juxtaposition of these two stories. How Hartnett trusts readers to reach conclusions and find common themes: how children rarely, if ever, have power or a voice; how sometimes children are caught in situations out of their control, are caught in chaos and uncertainty. That war is war, and war can be cruel and ugly.
So in many ways, I can like this one, at least from a distance, but did I love it? I'm not sure I can stretch it that far.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews