CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 13. . . .November 30, 2012
The Gypsy King.
Toronto, ON: Razorbill/Penguin, 2012.
434 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.
For a brief moment, it looked like Azriel might refuse – might insist upon watching her climb naked out of the pool. Then he gave a gentlemanly bow, picked up his shirt and boots, turned and headed down to the river. Persephone waited until she saw him wade in and start rinsing off, and then – her mind brimming with thoughts of the many hideous and painful things she would do to him if he dared to sneak a peek – she scampered out of the pool, snatched up her wet shift and tugged it on so fast that she tore one of the sleeves half off the bodice.
She started to swear but broke off at the sudden sound of Fleet whinnying in panic.
"Persephone, wait!" bellowed Azriel from his spot in the river.
But it was too late – she was already sprinting through the bush toward her horse with her dagger in hand. Seconds later she found him – trapped at the river's edge by three enormous, barking black dogs. They were sinewy, evil-looking creatures with slit eyes and amputated tails, and when Persephone burst upon the scene, the nearest and largest turned and stared at her with glittering yellow eyes.
Instinctively, Persephone backed up. As she did so, she tripped, fell and landed so hard that her teeth snapped down on her tongue. In unison, the two smaller dogs leapt for her throat. As they sailed through the air, three things happened at once. First, Fleet's horror at seeing his beloved Persephone under attack instantly overcame his terror of being drowned or eaten. Galloping full force at the dogs – eyes rolling and deadly, trampling hoofs flying – he caught the largest one with a powerful kick to the hindquarters that sent him sprawling face first into the dirt. Second, Cur burst from the trees beside Persephone and slammed into the nearest of the leaping dogs. Finally, Persephone – one arm flung over her face to protect her from the dog that was still bearing down on her – stuck out her dagger and braced her arm so that when the dog landed, he found himself not burying his teeth in the tender flesh of her neck but impaled upon her dagger by the force of his own momentum.
In the stunned silence that followed, the largest dog – the one who'd been kicked in the hindquarters – struggled to his feet and awkwardly slithered into the far bushes. Fleet – whose brains, guts and nerves had been entirely used up in his one shining moment of bravery – noisily trumpeted his terrible grief at the apparent demise of his adored mistress and galloped off in the opposite direction.
One heartbeat later, a dripping, shirtless Azriel burst into the clearing. At the sight of Persephone struggling feebly beneath the dog – blood pouring down the side of her shift so fast that it was pooling on the ground below her – he let out a hoarse cry. Sprinting over to where she lay, he heaved the dog aside, dropped to his knees and began frantically searching her blood-soaked shift for the fatal wound.
The Gypsy King opens as 16-year-old Persephone, a slave girl, thwarts the plans of a chicken thief and, in doing so, changes her entire life. The thief, Azriel, is a gypsy, and eventually he and Persephone both end up in his gypsy camp. There, they are asked to go to Parthania, the capital of Glyndoria, in order to fulfill an age-old prophecy: find the true gypsy king and restore him to his rightful throne. Little do they know that the current king, Finnius, is merely a puppet of the truly powerful men, Mordecai and General Murdock, and neither of these evil men has anyone else's interests at heart In fact, they will do whatever is necessary to prevent any representative of the gypsies from finding or helping their supposed king return to power.
Persephone is a fearless young woman with the determination and courage to do whatever she feels is right. She happily escapes her slavery when Azriel gives her the opportunity, but she is resolved to eventually part from him as well and live her life as an independent and capable woman. She tends to rush headlong into situations but always with the best of intentions and with a positive outcome. Azriel, the chicken thief and gypsy, is the romantic hero of the plot - handsome, masculine, brave, and willing to put himself at risk in order to find the true gypsy king. As might be expected, these two strong personalities clash at first, with each wanting to be in control, but, as the story moves along, they become aware of both their effectiveness as a team and their growing romantic feelings for one another.
The noblemen of the king's court provide most of the novel's secondary characters, and two of them, Mordecai and General Murdock, are completely self-interested, stopping at nothing to rid the court of those whom they deem to be any kind of block to their plans of eventually taking over the kingdom for themselves. Fergus provides plenty of action in the dungeons of the castle and in the poor areas of the city, just to prove how absolutely evil and self-centered the two men are.
Maureen Fergus's fourth young adult novel takes her readers into a fairy tale world of kings and castles, slaves and servants. The settings are described in details which make them seem very real, although all are somewhat predictable. The bedroom which Persephone has in the castle has a high bed draped with curtains and a bath filled with rose petals. The dungeon smells dank and damp and is filled with cages of prisoners, many of whom are both physically and mentally incapacitated due to the terrible tortures inflicted on them.
The novel is fast-paced and will appeal to the younger teen girls who appear to be the book's audience. There are scenes of adventure, scenes of romance and some comic situations as well. The story, however, is quite predictable, with the tomboyish, yet capable, Persephone at first having no interest in Azriel other than in his ability to get her away from the slavery she has endured. In no time, however, she is noticing how handsome and muscular he is and is wondering why he has made no advances toward her. Not that she would be interested, of course. Her trusty dagger is always within reach!
A comment should perhaps be made about Persephone's best bodyguards, Ivan the raven, Fleet the horse, and Cur the dog. They are devoted to their mistress and, fortunately for the plot, manage to find Persephone just when it appears that she is doomed to yet another terrible fate.
The Gypsy King is typical of its genre and predictable in nature. That said, Fergus gives her readers something of a twist at the end of the novel, and it seems evident that she plans a sequel since the question of the kingship and the role of the Gypsy King remain undecided even on the very final page. Fans of Persephone and Azriel will be pleased that the pair's adventures will continue.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and secondary school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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