Sonya Hartnett is a big name in Aussie writing. A bit of a powerhouse really. She's written quite a number of highly regarded books. She won the Astrid Lindgren Award in 2008. I've read a few of her books, but certainly not all. I always mean to read her latest book, but then get caught up and don't get to it. I was most jealous when my son's teacher started reading this book to his class for their daily read aloud book. I was even more thrilled when my son brought home a copy from the school library for me to read. Now the pressure was on. I had to read it out of maternal duty. And I'm glad I made the effort.
Although I thought The Children of the King started out a bit slowly (after the near heartstopping suspense of the first few pages). The story of two children, Cecily,12 and Jeremy, 14, siblings who are taken by their mother to live in their uncle's grand house, Heron Hall, to avoid the imminent threat of bombardment in London. Clearly we're in England in 1940, just before the start of the Blitz, although it's never really expressly stated, and I'm not sure that child readers would necessarily know that.
Jeremy and Cecily are clearly well off children. From the very start their are clues to their family fortune. "Her own suitcase was too fine to write on; it had a leather tag." They travel first class on the train. They have servants. Their uncle is called Peregrine. On their train journey they notice the many unaccompanied children who are also being sent out of London. Jeremy suggests that they too should take an evacuee as "it's the right thing to do." And so they arrive at Heron Hall with 10 year old May Bright in tow.
May isn't one to be cooped up inside despite the English weather, and quickly sets to exploring Heron Hall and the surrounding areas. She soon finds some mysterious ruins over the river. Peregrine tells them they are the ruins of Snow Castle, and that there is a terrible legend around the castle. "The tale is cruel. Unfit for childish ears." Of course the children immediately want to know the story. Peregrine does tell them over time, the story of a Duke from long ago and two missing children. I'm sure that if I'd paid more attention in high school history then I might have known who this story was about. Sonya Hartnett tells us who it is during this intriguing interview.
There are many, many passages about power and the horrors of war.
"Children have always borne the brunt of decisions made by adults," said Peregrine. "No child is responsible for the bombs that will fall on London tonight, but plenty will pay a dreadful price nonetheless."
Even more with writing that shimmers.
Dawn came early in those short weeks of summer. The sun rose limpid over the hills, pale and tired despite its youth. Its heatless light reached over miles of marsh, crept across streams and slunk over rocks, cast thin shadows from robins and shone dimly off dew, and finally crawled, with a daddy-longleg's fragility, up the walls of Heron Hall to Cecily's window, there to stare through the glass like a starved cat. Morning was here.