The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
Along with their mother, Cecily and Jeremy are sent from London to the English countryside during the bombings of World War II. Seeing other children who don’t have parents or family with them, Cecily decides that her family should take in one of the young refugees. So she picks out May, a girl who looks just the right age to be a friend but also still young enough that Cecily can be in charge. But May won’t be contained by Cecily, and soon is out exploring the countryside on her own. She is the one who first discovers the two boys hiding in the ruins of Snow Castle. Cecily joins May and the two of them meet the boys who are dressed in old-fashioned clothing. Meanwhile in the evenings, Cecily and Jeremy’s uncle Peregrine tells the story of Richard III and his nephews. The two stories weave together, two levels of history intertwined into one gorgeous tale.
Hartnett does so much in this book without ever losing sight of the heart of the story. Her story telling is phenomenal. She shares details of life during the Blitz and creates a warm and rich world of safety in the country. Within the World War II setting, she manages to have a character tell of another historical period with its own harrowing historical details. So often in a book with a story within a story, one is better than the other. Here they are both beautifully done and complement each other nicely.
Throughout the book, Hartnett uses imagery and beautiful prose. Her writing is rich and dazzling, painting pictures of the countryside, the city, Heron Hall, and England for readers. Here is how the study in Heron Hall is described for readers on page 35. This is just part of the lush writing that sets the stage:
Underfoot were flattened rugs, and a fire karate-chopped at the throat of the chimney. There was a good smell of cigarette smoke mixed with toast and dog; this room was a den, the lair of Heron Hall’s owner. Here, rather than in any of the grander rooms, was there the house’s living was done.
Hartnett’s characters are done with an ear for tone. Jeremy and Cecily have a mother who is mostly absent though she is right there all the time. She is disengaged from their days and even when they are out in town together she is separate and withdrawn. Cecily too is a rather unlikeable character. And what a risk that is, to create a story primarily about a little girl who is pushy, bossy and whiny. Yet it is Cecily who makes the book work, the character who brings the responses, the action, and keeps it from being overly sweet or convenient.
Gorgeously written with a complex storyline and interesting characters, this is one incredible piece of historical fiction. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Candlewick Press.