________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 11 . . . .February 4, 2005


To Save a King.

A.D. Fast.
St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell, 2004.
156 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55068-131-1.

Subject Heading:
Time travel-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Mary Thomas.

**1/2 /4



A moment later Louis was back with an armful of clothes. Lucas, Marvin, and Nicole each hid in a different dark corner of the dungeon and changed. When they came back out, they smiled at one another. Once again, the boys were given long pants that looked like tights, leather boots that went all the way up to their thighs, and long tunic shirts. They had each tied a belt around their waist. Nicole was wearing a long brown dress with an apron. They gave their modern clothes to Louis so he could hide them. Marvin's knapsack was hidden in the pile of clothes. "Now hurry. We have to get you out of here," Louis said when he returned. "And you must stay out of sight at all times."

"Why?" Marvin asked. He wanted to look around the castle some more, like they did last time.

"Because..." Louis unrolled a piece of paper and held it up. The writing was in French. Nicole, the French expert and all-around smart person, read it out loud. "His Majesty the King, Charles VII of France, does decree on this day, August 12, 1450, that whoever captures three spies from a distant land will be given thirty gold coins and must surrender the spies immediately for execution."

Then she gulped and turned to look at Lucas and Marvin.

"There's a price on our heads," she said.

Marvin, Nicole and Lucas are time-travelling again. This time they know a bit more what to expect since they have been back to 1450 before. In fact, the reason, the one that they will admit to at any rate, that they are returning is to try to save King Charles VII of France from being deposed by their mad history teacher. Mr. LeClair has really weird ideas about the printing press and how its invention should be suppressed so as to keep the peasants in their proper places, and he is impersonating the true king while he is away at war. The three youngsters figure it is up to them to save their own world by preventing Mr. LeClair from messing up history. And, of course, they succeed. Their antique coin takes them safely back to the correct time; they meet up with their friend Louis, and, after they have safely tied up Mr. L., they are rewarded by the real king with a gift of his coin collection, obviously the fount of many more adventures.

     When one reads fantasy, one must be prepared to suspend disbelief and go with the flow of the narrative, based on the acceptance of the author's initial assumptions. That is the easy part. The harder part is that the author must then make his story consistent within his system, and that is where To Save a King becomes a bit hard to swallow. First of all, there are three separate parties who do the time-travel bit on the same day, from the same time, to the same time. All of them have to be in a particular place between midnight and one minute past midnight for their coins to do the transporting, and all of them have only 24 hours in the past if they want to return safely, and with no time elapsed, to their own time again. There would have to be quite a queue in the cave to manage the transport, and why don't they all land in a heap on the other side of the barrier? One explanation of the latter could be that each party was using a different coin, with a different history, so each would deliver its payload, so each would deliver its payload, as it were, to a different part of medieval France, but the departure line-up cannot be explained away, at least by me. The three kids manage to traipse around castle and village without being spotted, even with a price on their heads (see the excerpt above) and even Nicole who, having done French Immersion, apparently can, and does, manage to converse with the locals. The group walk from castle to village; it's a long way and they get "very tired", but after a very few hours sleep, a chunk of bread, and a morning of working in the fields to repay their peasant host, they tear back to the castle, rescue Lucas as he waits to be executed, steal a cart and drive it out through the main gates during a speech being given by the usurper "king," without being stopped or even challenged by the guards. Then they manage to get through the forest, still with horse and cart (medieval highways?), to intercept the real king on his return from the war and capture Mr. Leclair who has come all by himself to apprehend and dispose of a king no doubt better trained in swordsmanship than he. Then back to the castle to collect their reward and vamoose, all in exactly twenty-four hours. Sorry, but I can't cope.

     On the other hand, the reader does learn quite a lot about conditions in medieval France and about how much the printing press did change history. The basic facts are probably right; it's just the peripherals that are a bit questionable. If they don't bother you, then you could learn quite a lot. As a story, however, it is weak, to say the least.

Recommended with Reservations.

Mary Thomas works in two Winnipeg, MB, elementary schools and really does like both fantasy and time-travel books.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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