When the King Comes Home
by Caroline Stevermer
After creating a remarkable, alternate-history fantasy world based on the early 20th century in A College of Magics
and A Scholar of Magics
, Caroline Stevermer retreats into an even earlier century in this book. Styled as the memoir of an artist in what I would estimate to be the 18th century, in the fictional kingdom of Aravis, When the King Comes Home
s has many of the elements that stir the imagination of todays fantasy readers. It has gruesome secrets hidden in the masterpieces and notebooks of a Renaissance-era artist. It contains terrible acts of alchemy and necromancy, battles between the armies of good and evil (fought, in part, with magical weapons), and fateful collisions of politics with the forces of the heart. But perhaps most memorably of all, it turns the phrase Gold has no memory into something chilling to think about.
It starts when a young girl named Hail Rosamer goes to the great city of Aravis to become an artists apprentice. Her studies are going well enough until she becomes fascinated with the work of a long-dead artist named Maspero. Particularly, she takes an unhealthy interest in Masperos Siege Medallion, containing a likeness of Good King Julian.
Thats Julian IV, who died in Vienna, and whose body was returned home for burial after such long delays that it gave rise to a proverb: When the king comes home... Its not a prophecy merely a light-hearted proverb that becomes a very harsh reality when an evil necromancer raises King Julian and his champion Istvan from the dead.
By a remarkable twist of circumstance, Hail finds herself at the center of the you-know-what that breaks loose at that point. Whatever you want to call it, it involves a plan to take over the throne of the kingdom, a ritual full of spine-tingling portents (occult content advisory!) and a march into battle that captures a bit of what warfare was like in that age. (Quote: Complete inactivity punctuated by bursts of terror. Thats the military life.) It also involves hints of romance, heart-rending sorrow, and an appreciation of how ghastly it would be to be brought back from the dead against your will...not only for you, but also for the person whose body your spirit is put into! (Shudder!)
Besides all this, it is a tightly written, well-paced adventure full of beautiful imagery and a mildly accurate, but never tiresome, imitation of the way people spoke and wrote once upon a time. In fact, I think this is Ms. Stevermers most assured and successful piece of historical fiction that I have yet seen.
Recommended Age: 14+
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