CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 8. . . .October 26, 2012
Motivated by a deathbed promise he made to his mother as a child, 18-year-old Thomas sets out to capture his birthright, the Kingdom of Magnus. Not alone in his quest, Thomas recruits three outlaws—a disgraced Templar Knight, an adolescent pickpocket, and a deaf mute girl—as companions to help navigate the long and dangerous road that lies ahead.
If this synopsis sounds familiar, it should as it forms the basic premise of Magnus (most recently published in 1999 as Wings of Dawn) written by bestselling author Sigmund Brouwer. The Orphan King is a reimagining of Thomas’ story, orientated specifically for young adults, including elements untold and unexplored in the original.
After several plot building introductory chapters—readers are briefly informed of the existence of secret societies (the Druids and the Immortals) a mysterious book, and Thomas’ back story, which includes an explanation of his mother’s death and the circumstances which brought him to live as an orphan among unscrupulous monks—the book transitions nicely into a classic adventure fantasy tale, adopting many of the conventions expected of the genre. In their travels, a host of shady and nefarious individuals are encountered; Thomas, in particular, confronts all challengers put before him despite possessing, at times, doubt in his abilities and choices. And while he often stumbles, he is quick to learn and adapt from his errors. Invariably, each trial he faces is an opportunity used to grow and hone his skills, the result of which hastens his maturity in preparation for the final climatic confrontation. It may also be appropriate to conclude that the seed of Thomas’ prowess is, in fact, innate, sown into him at a young age by the instruction he received from his mother.
In any event, it should be noted that Thomas, in dealing with conflict, rarely employs the use of physical force or is interested in exacting penalties or punishments against his conquered foes. In this sense, The Orphan King deviates slightly from the Western-Arthurian tradition of fantasy as it possesses a protagonist who does not openly battle or control his enemies with a sword, but instead with cunning, reason, and great intelligence. The capture of Magnus, for example, is tactically orchestrated and brilliantly won without spilling a single drop of blood.
A multitude of themes populate this exceptional fantasy tale—abandonment, identity, courage, trust, and friendship are among the most prevalent. Their presence, however, does not come across as heavy or contrived. Instead, they are smoothly incorporated into the central plot functioning well to illustrate Thomas’ growth and development as a character. Faith, science, and superstition are likewise intricately and inextricably woven throughout the story. The interplay of these elements is skillfully crafted by Brouwer. Faith falls to superstition, superstition falls to faith, and science tends to conquer all, especially as it concerns Thomas. He is keen on using technology and his understanding of the natural world to outsmart those around him, and similarly he employs the superstitious tendencies and the religious beliefs of others, which he almost invariably sees as misguided, to his own advantage. Thomas’ contempt for faith, however, should not be interpreted as an attack on religion per se, but instead as a veiled critique of institutions and individuals who abuse their power and position in society. Besides, not all people of faith are negatively portrayed, and Thomas, who struggles with his own faith throughout the story, is seen (in the last chapter) entering a church under the invitation of a friendly and genteel priest.
The Orphan King, beautifully written and wonderfully (re)imagined, will have broad appeal, but the novel will perhaps be best received by middle grade students and among young male readers. However, as the chapters are brief and the third-person narration is clearly constructed, it may also be appropriate to recommend to reluctant readers, especially those who have a fondness for adventure fantasy. While The Orphan King seems to lack elements of magic and myth typical in even the most subdued adventure fantasy—Thomas is very much grounded in the realities of fourteenth-century England—there is more than enough, mystery, deception, action, and excitement to carry readers through this and the other forthcoming books in the series.
Andrew Laudicina, a recent MLIS graduate from the University of Western Ontario in London, ON, currently resides in Windsor, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.