The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett Book Review

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: March 25, 2014

Cecily and Jeremy, along with their mother have been sent to their Uncle's countryside manor 'Heron Hall', far from London and safe from the war. Upon Cecily's urging, they take in another refugee May, who is to remain with them for the duration of the war. Mae is quiet and mysterious, Jeremy hates that he is being treated like a child, and Cecily just wants to forget about the war. Then May stumbles across two boys hiding in the ruins of a nearby castle and then the real adventure begins.

I wanted to like this book. Vaguely reminiscent of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Tom's Midnight Garden, I wanted to be sucked into the old time whimsy. Yet I wasn't. It is a beautifully written book, that is to be sure, with its gentle truths and whispering secrets. The problem is that so much was just a whisper, barely touched on ideas and a melancholy that felt like it belonged in an adult novel.

The character's themselves ranged from shockingly complex to archetypal shallow. Jeremy, fourteen, is angry at having to evacuate, angry that he is not being treated as an adult, and angry that he is not quite old enough to do something about it. Cecily is spoiled, callous, selfish, inconsiderate, and bossy. Her attitude towards May is that the girl is her pet, to do with as she pleases. The problem with Cecily is that she is a child in a world that is asking her to grow up and she is fighting it with all her might. May on the other hand is quiet and even though she is two years younger than Cecily, a good deal more mature. The problem with the story is that most of it is told through the lens of Cecily, the most unlikable of the three children.

As for the mystery of the two boys in the castle, it was not done very cleverly as it became abundantly clear who the two boys were supposed to be and also was a slightly twisted version of history. Was it ever a ghost story? Not really. It lacked the magic, or for lack of a better word, spirit.

There was a lot of promise in this story that wasn't quite fulfilled, but it did end with a very poignant message. Children, very rarely, have any control in a world thrown into chaos. War is a terrible and ugly thing brought on my forces who seek power. It is that quest for power that will kill fathers, murder children, and harm countless other innocents who get in its way.