The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

The Children of the King by Sonya Harnett
Pub. Date: March 25, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Candlewick Press!)
Summary: Cecily and Jeremy have been sent to live with their uncle Peregrine in the English countryside, safe from the war, along with a young refugee named May. But when Cecily and May find two mysterious boys hiding in the ruins of a nearby castle, an extraordinary adventure begins.
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Paranormal

I’m a little ashamed at waiting over a year to finally get around to reading this one, especially when the premise is SUCH a Leah book! In an attempt to bring up my pathetic netgalley stats, I decided to dive into this one recently when Baylor and I weren’t feeling so great (sick days = my excuse to laze about and read and not feel guilty!)

A WWII novel that features a Richard III retelling. The Children of the King should have been a novel I praised to the ends of the earth. While the writing was, at times, absolutely beautiful – essentially poetry – it was the characters, two in particular, who saw to the novel’s downfall.

With Hitler’s army ravaging France and moving ever closer to London, Mr. Lockwood made the decision to send his children and wife to the country to live in his brother’s grand manor. Jeremy, fourteen and feeling very put out that his father refuses to let him stay home to help with the war efforts; Cecily, a chubby twelve-year-old who has a nasty habit of speaking before she thinks; and their mother, Mrs. Lockwood, gather their luggage and board a train headed for Heron Hall.

At the train station they see a teeming mass of children. These, their mother explains, are evacuees. Children sent away to live with strangers until the war is over or the day comes when it’s safe for them to return home. Cecily sees these children as little more than playthings (and at one point, even describes their charge as a kitten) while Jem rationalizes that, since they have the means the Lockwoods should be caring for a dozen of these children. Eventually their mother gives in and Cecily chooses a little ten-year-old, May Bright, to stay at Heron Hall.

While at the manor, the girls come across crumbling ruins of an ancient castle, Snow Castle, Uncle Peregrine says and proceeds to tell them (and Jem) a legend of a king, a jealous duke, and two young boys locked away in a tower.

If I ignore Cecily and Jem and instead focus on the rest of the novel, The Children of the King was a total knock-out. The way Hartnett writes, I honestly believed that this book was actually written decades ago. She captures the atmosphere and tone perfectly. The two boys in the tower, Edward V and his younger brother Richard, were absolutely marvelous as well and I craved the moments when Peregrine would gather the children round to tell more of their story. In fact, I enjoyed this story-within-a-story so much that I put in a request at my library for Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower, a nonfiction account of the boys’ deaths and whether or not Richard III was involved.

UNFORTUNATELY – and I wish this wasn’t the case, because the rest of the book was so, so lovely – Cecily and Jem completely ruined the novel for me. Cecily more so than her brother, but Jem had his moments as well. To put it bluntly, Cecily is a spoiled brat who thinks she’s better than everyone. Like I said before, when she’s “browsing” through the children, she likens her new plaything to a newborn kitten. She makes fun of May for having a father who’s a teacher (and goes off to serve in the war) and a mother who not only had to find work, but found work making parachutes. Cecily’s rude and nasty comments toward this poor girl were so uncalled for. Jem wasn’t a perfect little angel either. I completely understand that, at fourteen he doesn’t want to be treated like a child. However, at one point he runs away from Heron Hall and doesn’t give a thought as to the chaos his leaving would cause. Keep in mind this was during air raids. In the end he turns around and comes home on his own after a few days and doesn’t think anything of it.

What does it say about a novel when I want to recommend it, but only if readers ignore the main characters? The Children of the King should have been a total no-brainer, top read, all-time favorite, but a selfish and arrogant main character completely took me out of the story. The World War II setting, Richard III retelling, and lyrical writing were superb, I just wish Cecily had been written out.

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