________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 2 . . . . September 20, 2002

cover The Phantom Queen.

Ven Begamudré.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2002.
292 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55050-200-X.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Joan Marshall.

** /4



"Katrina Lvovna," Leo said, "I name you Queen of Mir. I appoint Master Nevsky as your only foreman, your foremost boyar, and "

The princes both shouted, "No! It's mine!"

Ikar grabbed the crown before it could touch Katrina's head. Elena screamed. Ivan also lunged for the crown. They tugged this way and that till Nevsky cried:

"Stop this silly tug-of-war! Isn't it enough you're tearing the kingdom in half?"

In this complicated fantasy, a wizard-like figure named Nevsky tries to keep the kingdom of Mir from being divided between two greedy princes, Ikar and Ivan, the twin sons of King Leo and Queen Elena. With the help of his magical owl, Sovah, his adopted daughter/wife, Ekho, and the head of the Christian church, Bishop Tserkov, Nevsky outmaneuvers the devil, Dhiavoli, and, in a final terrifying battle, defeats the powers of evil and returns the people to the one true God. He and Ekho part from each other to do their own separate good works on Earth, and Nevsky is struck blind. The story is told by a blind, traveling minstrel to an earthly court with an aging, adored queen. In the end, the reader discovers that the minstrel is Nevsky and the old queen is Ekho. The two heroes of the tale leave Earth and return to Mir to live together happily forever.

     The Phantom Queen is divided into three parts separated by Interludes at the court of the earthly kingdom as the minstrel tells the tale and the court reacts to it. This story includes several allusions to Russian stories, not the least of which are the names of the characters, the cold, wintery setting and the magical animals and gods mentioned. Nevsky, the main character, is a mysterious wizard whose powers and history are never fully explained and who seems to be unbelievable. Called by his dog to enter a cave that all the villagers avoid, the orphan Sasha emerges as Nevsky to condemn the superstition of the villagers. He seals the cave up so that only he and Sovah (changed into an owl) may enter, and he sets off to learn more about the world of Mir. The newborn Ekho is abandoned by the villagers and left in Nevsky's care although he, himself, is only ten years old. The story takes a huge leap in time at this point, jumping to Nevsky at twenty-three and Ekho at fourteen. Neither the source of Nevsky's power nor the role of Ekho are fully developed. Ekho at first seems to be an innocent, complacent servant, even calling Nevsky her Master. Later, Nevsky falls in love with her but sends her into the earthly world to learn what her destiny is. There, she gains the courage to sing in the land of Mir, ending the battle between the princes when she returns. The twin princes seem like caricatures, one-dimensional representations of evil. Tserkov represents the Church and defers to Nevsky instead of acting on his own and becoming a stronger character. The imaginary setting of the land of Mir recalls the land of ancient Russia. The royal town of Goroth seems more symbolic than real, situated as it is on an island from which the palace falls as it burns to the ground in the end. The message is tied to the setting, too, with Christianity overcoming pagan beliefs.

     The mood of this book is overwhelmingly dark and sad, infused with superstition and magic. In the end, however, all the loose ends are tied up neatly, with good triumphant, evil banished and the heroes rewarded in good fantasy style. Good middle years readers looking for yet another fantasy novel may stay with this one until the end but never really feel caught up in its world or its message.

Recommended with reservations.

Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364