08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen Books

The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal, 576 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/29/2013

Kingdom of Little Wounds is a most unexpected book. The setting is in an imaginary Scandinavian country in 1572. Young Princess Sophie is on the eve of her wedding, a grand affair, by all accounts. She dies before the nuptial night is over. Poison is suspected, but since all of her siblings seem to suffer from the same symptoms that Sophie had in the years prior to her death, many believe it to be disease.
Out of the royal spotlight, two women struggle to eke out a life worth living in the palace. One is a seamstress named Ava Bingen. After accidentally pricking the Queen while repairing her gown, Ava is demoted to working with the ailing children. The other woman, Midi Sorte, was taken from her native land and given as a gift to a noble. At some point in her service, her tongue is cut in half (lengthwise), so Midi’s power of speech is gone. She proves, however, that one need not speak to get a point across or to be valuable to the machinations of the palace and its inhabitants. Her position taking care of the youngest royal child keeps her relatively safe.
Queen Isobel and her husband, King Christian, struggle to keep up appearances while their legacy falters before their eyes. Some of the most obvious signs of illness are routinely overlooked at the behest of those in power. Others are executed, imprisoned or tortured as potential poisoners of the children, King and Queen. Bit by bit, all three women, the Queen, Midi, and Ava, will find their lives intertwining in unexpected ways.
We love to imagine history as a romanticized version of itself. This version is far less kind and likely much closer to the realities of life in such a setting. Underneath the veneer of fancy clothing and royal privilege lies a kingdom in peril. The reader realizes far before many of the characters that it is not poison that caused the death of Princess Sophie. Nor is it poison that threatens her siblings. Rather, it is syphilis, a disease that was reputedly quite well-spread at the time (and was considered incurable). Many of the “mad” kings of history were known to suffer from the disease. This story could have been far more graphic and, frankly, gross, but for Cokal’s hypnotic writing style. Cokal herself describes the book as “a fairy tale about syphilis”, which is fairly accurate. The narrative trades off mainly between Ava, Midi and the Queen and each has their own narrative “style”. The way in which the story plays itself out is full of intrigue and danger, though the unexpected ending leaves the reading believing that the kingdom just might survive, after all. The Kingdom of Little Wounds was highly unusual, dark and lyrical. It’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone, but for the right reader, it’s a tale one can really sink one’s teeth into.

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