________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006



Lilli Thal. Translated by John Brownjohn.
Toronto, ON: Annick, 2005.
394 pp., pbk. & cl., $12.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55037-924-0 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-925-9 (cl.).

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Libby McKeever.

***½ /4


The king's eyes flashed derisively, "I hereby appoint you a master, a master of the jester's noble art."

"A master!" Mimus screeched in delight. "Did you hear that, all of you? I'm a master, a master of the jester's noble art!" He jumped up, seized the nearest page and hurled him to the floor. "Down on your knees before me, you miserable worm!" The boy resisted fiercely, and the jester hit him on the head with the wooden bauble, "I'll teach you to show a noble master due respect!

"King Theodo turned to Florin. "As for you, jester's apprentice, work hard and don't disgrace your father. I shall expect you to entertain us at the grand banquet to be held on the day I have him beheaded."

"I can think of a fine song for the occasion," cried Mimus. He jumped on to a chair and proceeded to sing at the top of his voice:

                "Poor King Philip lost his throne,
                 rued his fate with many a moan.
                in a dungeon dark he lay,
                till there dawned that fateful day
                when, his prayers having said.
                poor King Philip lost his head."

"What a pity," he said to Florin, "that your father will be unable to hear my ditty. But never mind, frogs and toads thrive in the castle sewers. They'll croak his headless majesty many a fine melody!"

Florin glared at Mimus, choking with fury, and the green and yellow stripes swam before his eyes. Whatever happened, he would never have anything to do with such an evil creature. When the jester reached for him, he thrust his outstretched hand aside with all his might and ran. His attempts to escape ended ignominiously. Before he could reach the doorway, the guards drove him into a corner like a hunted hare, seized him and dragged him back to the throne by his hair.

"Before I forget," said King Theodo. "Nobody in this room will reveal the parentage of my little jester - not unless he wishes to pay for that disclosure with his head.  But now, Mimus, take your apprentice away before I change my mind and have him hanged on the spot."


In the medieval kingdoms of Monfield and Vinland, war has been raging for decades, denuding crops and impoverishing the citizens. Though life for crown Prince Florin in the royal house of Moltovia in Monfield seems untouched by these rivalries, his father, King Philip, knows the toll that it has taken on his land. In Florin's opinion, the life of a prince and the duties that go with being next in line for the throne aren't nearly as exciting as playing battle in the woods with his friends and listening to Tanko's clever stories. When King Philip is summoned to negotiate a truce unexpectedly proposed by the king of Vinland, Florin is required to fill his father's shoes. During the long hours of carrying out his courtly duties, Florin develops memory games to pass the time, and he grows anxious awaiting news from King Philip. When the news finally arrives, it is Count Tillo, a noble whose lands lies near the border to Vinland, who brings the news, rather than one of King Philip's usual couriers. Count Tillo bears a sealed parchment with Philip's signature, summoning Prince Florin to join him in Vinland to celebrate the agreed upon truce. Florin is only too pleased to follow, although the King's trusted aide, Chancellor Artold, is uneasy about these unusual circumstances.

     Upon their arrival in King Theodo's castle, Florin finds his joy and anticipation quickly dampened by the realization that he has been tricked. Betrayed by Count Tillo, Florin is brought before the court of Vinland and, rather than a partaking in a celebration of the kingdom's unification, to his horror, Florin witnesses his father and his demoralized men paraded before him in chains. Florin's fate is subsequently sealed when he displays some quick "word fencing" with the court jester, a game he played with his friends back home. The King watches in growing enthrallment as Florin spars with the jester and, to his own delight, Theodo hatches a plan to make Florin, the jester's apprentice, a fitting end for the son of a demoted king. Florin is made aware that, as long as he is a faithful student, his father's beheading will be stayed. Florin watches in horrified fascination at the strategies displayed by Mimus, the court jester. Clothed in lurid stripes and a donkey-eared hat, the jingly-belled creature repulses Florin, his quick tongue debasing guests and courtiers in an effort to be rewarded with sweetmeats and pastries when King Theodo is amused.   

     After a failed escape attempt and barely surviving on a diet of gruel, Florin eventually submits to Mimus' teaching, though secretly revolted at what he is forced to do, and he learns the benefits of table scraps that an amusing performance will bring. Florin's quick mind and the ability to recreate the stories his friend Tanko told to him, form the keys to his survival and success, and, over time, he finds the power to endure the servile animal existence into which he has been thrust. Florin's wretched circumstances are somewhat relieved by the friendship he kindles in Benzo, a kitchen boy, and by his duties performing for the king's children. As the date of the grand banquet draws nearer, Florin realizes that his father's fate lies in his hands. His alliance with Benzo and the unexpected attachment that Mimus and Florin share in their mutual oppression prove to be the tools that Florin needs to execute a plan. 

     It becomes clear that King Theodo's success in capturing Montfield's royalty has inspired him to increase his borders even further with a vision of securing Vinland's supremacy over all the surrounding kingdoms. It appears that spies are rife on both sides and that the cruel king Theodo is unaware of this fact as his castle literally crumbles below his feet.

     I thoroughly enjoyed this complex tale of betrayal, treachery and survival. Thal has wonderfully captured the strength of human spirit that can endure when someone is driven to exist at such a base level where hope is almost lost. Her characters are compelling and resilient, and teens will enjoy this story of an adolescent's courage under times of unbearable cruelty.

Highly Recommended.

Libby McKeever is a Library Technician student and the Library Assistant at Whistler Secondary in Whistler, BC.


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

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