Author: Susann Cokal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
rewind a few hours back. i’m sleeping inside my school bag, the buzz of teachers and students like an insistent and deplorable bee, i’m cocooned wearing a hat so cozy from my own heat like hot chocolate for freezing feet like song heard and learnt and again.
fast forward a few seconds. someone pulls off my hat, bag is torn away. it is entirely unbearable…
that is a situation akin mine when i started the first part after the itty-bitty fairy tale. that is a situation akin to ava’s, given hers is far more severe. the title, the kingdom of little wounds was abstract and poetic before; now it is sad and apposite enough that none should ever suit it.
ms cokal doesn’t tell here a tale of how son after father after daughter, bit by another, a family a family is broken, as some die and others are sent away. there’s that but it’s not this tale. on the night of her greatest sorrow, of the advent of disgrace in her life, the mad queen cries and shudders and tears her gown as her twelve-year, ailing daughter is married to a duke crazier than herself who’s in love with mermaids, and they’re set to consummate their new nuptials to settle peace. on this woe-begotten night, her eldest, her beloved, Sophia, is poisoned. on this night, the life of a seamstress, already who’s suffered her fair share, is irrevocably tied into that of the royals for she begets one to bleed.
this is how it starts, on this night, but by no means, is this the most important night in the book. this is simply how it begins, the tale told to four truthful, naive princesses to help the eldest rule her kingdom.
like bass music in the background, there is magic; however, the presence of magical elements is ambiguous. it could be, or it couldn’t. the events and continuation don’t rely on magic or chance or serendipity to move along the story. it’s medieval European history when God and miracles are worshiped, yet not questionable. the talk, the walk has a flair of magic about it but it’s in the historical aspect, it’s in the belief and perspective of theirs.
the writing is harder to get into than i anticipated, especially the first person view which alternates with third person present and, surprisingly, the latter is far easier to swallow. the first person narration is by two persons: ava bingen, young seamstress who bled the queen and midi sorte, a slave used by all, loved by one. as a result, there narrations bring us nearer to the character with their disclosure, but separate us from the story far too often in the first half. on the other hand, the third person narration is by people involved directly in the court intrigue, or its sufferer, the main players, whether they know it or not. midi and ava, contrarily, are simply the pawns being moved about until a time when they, too, enter the stage. even so, i myself was surprised at how easily i got into it, how fast it was to flutter through the pages once past the initial barrier. and sometimes, it got so prosaic and exquisite…
despite the great number of perspectives, they are easy to discern and perceive. the story is never muddles for each of them has quite a distinct voice and personality: the sad queen, the hateful slave, the tired seamstress, the lovestruck king et cetra… the basic elements of traditional fairy tale. ava and midi were never particularly likable characters; in fact, one could find a motley list of quirks to hate in them. in spite of that, or maybe it contributed towards a little, they were admirable in their conduct.
another thing to comment on is the lack of tension regards war with the swedes considering how important it was for the scandinavians(this is scandinavian historical fiction(!) that i know fuck-all about) to kiss and make up be done with the threat of war.
to the story itself, it is riddled with deaths and poison; there be a vile countess and viler still duke, a throne with a trembling crest of royalty astride. midi sorte and ava bingen are on the sidelines, observing and playing out their parts in poisoning and stymieing assassinations. there’s a penis with riches of a segment of lifetime underneath. which begs, why did i get this book from the children’s fiction shelf of netgalley? this is wrong! this could be considered an extremely dark, mature YA novel if you wanna stretch it, and uncompromisingly adult if you don’t wanna be difficult. i mean, there are forced handjobs and anal sex involved.
anyhoo, it’s a very grim story, which i don’t say to turn you away. i don’t believe all this would suit everyone; in fact one comparison i can draw is jenni fagan’s the panopticon– whilst it’s a completely different novel, the series of grim realities and the unflinching honesty they’re narrated with is similar. if you found that ghastly, so would this. and vice versa.
anywhoo i did very much love it, although i’ve never been one for this sort of historical fiction, because of the sequence of the story and the writing and best of all, short fairy tales like tiny silver fish darting in and out and around when you’re not looking, only in the periphery.
they are the most appealing aspect of the book, for me. they follow the same vein as the entire book of being dark and gloomy, but they augur the tone of what is to come further on in the story. besides, of themselves, they are very interesting and beautifully written, in words entirely different from the main story, whose words are affected by being scandinavian and old and following regulations of history, while these are free of these constraints and lovely.
Thenceforth she was the queen of a wild, speechless monkey-land. Her children had long hairy fingers and curling tails, with
slobbering lips that the king insisted must suckle on no breasts but her own.
In time, the queen began to pray that she, too, would turn into a monkey, if only to make these circumstances easier to bear.
But the angels of the monkey-land did not heed her prayers, for in all the years she lived among them, she never managed once
to give her husband a loving kiss.
…granted, i live in tropical area and i molded to it, leaning against the air around leaf-like.
thank you so much, candlewick press!
For me, it was seven years of reading books and taking trips to Scandinavia and
writing at least nine separate drafts.
When people asked what I was working on, I would answer, “A fairy tale about syphilis.”
Says the author. I personally opine that the book follows the story of one bejeweled prick. Literally.