Published by Candlewick Press on October 8th, 2013
Genres: fantasy, Historical, young adult
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A 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor BookA young seamstress and a royal nursemaid find themselves at the center of an epic power struggle in this stunning young-adult debut.On the eve of Princess Sophia's wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit and sweet spiced wine. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne's heirs, and a courtier's wolfish hunger for the king's favors sets a devious plot in motion. Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem — and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined with that of mad Queen Isabel. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.
A fairy tale about Syphilis, the author says. Yup, that’s pretty much exactly what it is, though it goes a bit deeper than that. I wish I could say this book blew me away. I wish I could say its contents were as beautiful as its cover. Though there are some good things here, for the most part, this book was an enormous disappointment. I was looking forward to it so much, but it just wasn’t all that I hoped it would be.
First thing I need to talk about is the book’s genre classification. This is published by Candlewick as a YA novel. Candlewick is strictly a children’s book publisher. In my opinion, The Kingdom of Little Wounds is not a YA book. It’s not just the graphic (and I mean graphic) sex, rape, violence, disease, and everything else that runs rampant. It’s the fact that there is really only one teenage character, and she is only about one third of the novel. There are a large number of characters, and none of them are teenagers. The focus is not on teenage issues and teenage development. The focus is on Syphilis, court politics and deception, a power-hungry dude who rapes the help, executions, dying children…this book is pretty brutal. I just think the themes are not themes you find commonly in YA novels. I think it has crossover potential. But ultimately I must question WHY this was published by a children’s publisher. In my humble opinion, it should not have been.
It wasn’t all bad though. I actually really liked the story. And I think had I not been concerned about the genre classification as it continued to get more violent and creepy by the second, I would have enjoyed it more. As an adult historical fantasy, this would have worked better, in my opinion. But if you like court politics, beheadings, dungeons, lots of poisoning, and doctors and astronomers who have no flipping clue what they are doing, you might like this one. I have to give major accolades to the author for the amount of research she did on this. I know this book took her 7 years to write (says so in the author’s note at the end), and even though I didn’t love it, her time investment shows.
So why then did I not love it? Because I didn’t connect to the characters, mainly. It was very much written in a fairy tale style, with an omniscient narrator that kept the reader at a distance. This did lead to a whimsical, meandering feel with beautiful prose so it wasn’t all bad, but I did feel like I never really got to know the characters. And thus, I did not care much about their plights. Oh, someone died? So what? Children keep dropping like flies? Ehhhh. It’s a very difficult perspective to pull off even for the best writers, and though I am sure this author is talented, it just didn’t work for me. There was way too much telling, not enough character development, and I needed the prose to be more vivid. Without my feeling any emotion towards the characters, I am just not going to connect with this book at all. Books like that rarely, if ever, achieve more than 3 stars from me. So this gets the highest marks for its inventiveness.
The world-building was excellent, though I am still a bit confused as to whether this was a fantasy or not. There were trolls living under bridges and dwarves, which makes it seem like it was, but no magic or dragons or other fantasy aspects. If it was meant to be fantasy (still not sure), I would have liked more fantasy elements here. And then there was the fact that some of the writing felt disjointed to me. There were multiple POVs here, some of which were through a narrator, and some through the characters, so there was a lot going on. One of the POVs had a very strong dialect and I had a tough time following those chapters. That’s not all though. I did find myself distracted by the writing and word choices sometimes. It’s hard to explain and it might just be a ‘me’ situation. Sometimes it flowed and sometimes it didn’t, but it was not very consistent.
So you know, there is a lot of good here. Unfortunately it’s peppered with a lot of things I didn’t like as well. I do recommend it, but with reservations. It depends on the person doing the reading.