The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

Storytelling is often like Matryoshka dolls, layers of story, tales within tales and Hartnett uses, seamlessly, this device in her latest novel for middle readers. Beautifully written and hauntingly evocative, the story is set on the eve of the bombing of London in World War Two. For safekeeping, children were evacuated to the country, to family or in the case of many, to be billeted out, living with strangers, away from all they know. The Lockwood children are lucky, they are going to their uncle’s estate together, except for their father, but at least they have their mother with them.

At their train destination a lot of children are awaiting the unknown of who will foster them and the Lockwoods kindly take a young girl called May to live with them. May has left her mother in London, who has joined the war effort and her father is away fighting, his fate unknown or is it? May is wise and thoughtful beyond her years and makes Cecily Lockwood appear pampered and impetuous, but to me Cecily is a great little character who matures and learns empathy but can be childishly petulant. Her brother Jeremy is indignant at leaving London and feels he should be contributing to the war effort but eventually learns an important lesson about the injustice and the futility of war.

Backdropping the present is the haunting tale that Uncle Peregrine tells each night about the nearby derelict Snow Castle which basically is a retelling about the Princes in the Tower. This eerie and cruel time in history interweaves with the present in surprising ways and what the reader and the children learn is everything is connected, the past has links to the present and has many a lesson to teach us if only those in power would care to learn. Continuing with her exploration of history as her inspiration that Hartnett has previously explored in The Silver Donkey and The Midnight Zoo, The Children of the King is another wonderful book from a superlative storyteller.

For ages 10 and up.

Alexa Dretzke from Readings Hawthorn