CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 18. . . .May 2, 2008
The Eyes of a King.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2008.
435 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Bryannie Kirk.
I sat still, the book open across my knees. The strange thing was that I had read this story before, I was certain. And it was not pretend. I was sure that it was real; it had really happened. It might be, I thought, that the little boy was the prince who had been born the same year I had, the prince who was supposed to have been exiled to that legendary country. Prince Cassius. What was the country's name? Angel Land, or something very like. But that country was not real. Lucien's troops killed everyone in the castle that night; they killed the king, and the queen, and the prince. His advisor Talitha had been responsible for it; she had great powers, and it would have been an easy thing for her to kill a five-year-old boy. This was no more than a story, then… As I went down to fetch water, I remembered that pretend country's name. That legendary land, in another world, that my grandmother used to tell us fairy stories about. It wasn't "Angel Land" at all. The name was "England."
In The Eyes of a King, readers meet Leo North, an orphan who has spent five years writing about the events of his life in Malonia, a dystopian world parallel to England. The story unfolds in first person, with Leo recounting his daily struggles with the emotions of adolescence and the clashes he has with sergeants at his military school. Malonia is a medieval-like country at war with its neighbour, headed by an illegitimate, dictatorial king – the same king who has banished all copies of Leo's father's book. Magicians in Malonia are seen as "Great Ones," and magic is described as a sort of focused willpower. In an interesting twist, the old-fashioned (for us) guns that the Malonians are using in the war with a neighbouring country, Alcyria, have been stolen from an old manor in England and reproduced by the Malonians for the army.
Leo and his younger, more sensitive brother, Stirling, are the grandsons of one of the most famous "Great Ones," Aldebaron, who was exiled to England after he prophesied the return of the rightful king. Leo finds a black book one day, and an inexplicable feeling forces him to pick it up. He soon discovers that there is a story inside, one set in England and mysteriously added to periodically. As the secondary story unfolds and Leo becomes more involved in the story, he realizes that the book is magical and the characters are the young rightful king of Malonia and his grandfather, Aldebaron, both living in modern-day rural England, biding their time before coming back to take the Malonian throne. When Leo's brother falls ill with the mysterious and often deadly "Silent Fever," everything in Leo's life changes. Leo spends much of his time attempting to protect his younger, sensitive brother, Stirling, from the harsh discipline of the military school they both attend.
The relationship between Leo, who is 15, and Stirling, who is eight, is full of warmth and mutual love, with the realistic annoyances and complications of siblings everywhere. Stirling, however, comes off as too good to be true with his mix of strong religious belief and extreme innocence. Leo's sometimes erratic reactions to others make him a prickly, but realistic, teenage boy. Leo is one of the more rounded characters, and readers might also identify with Ryan, the exiled Malonian king who struggles with the idea of leaving England and taking on the tasks of ruling a country at war.
The dialogue and some of the narration reads as unrealistic and stilted, possibly because of the almost complete lack of conjunctions. It may be a parallel world, but there is not enough background information or corroborating details to warrant the stilted dialogue being seen as a Malonian dialect or even old-fashioned English. The flow of the novel, itself, is hard to follow, switching between Leo's written account of his life, the story that he reads in the black book, and sections where the events in England are recounted through Leo's dreams. There are separate fonts established for each section, but the narrative flow is lacking and seems to be full of plot twists of the "And then…" variety. Although there are some interesting ideas in the book and the complications that Banner introduces to the plot and characters can be gripping, the overall narrative flow is choppy and irregular, and the alternative world of Malonia is not quite as fully developed. That said, Banner has created a work of great imagination that provides commentary both on contemporary England and a similar, but alternate, world.
Bryannie Kirk is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia.
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