October 25, 2011
Peter Dickinson’s King and Joker opens up on a scene of the British royal family eating breakfast, their dialogue at the table a startling, almost surreal mix of the cozy patter of a suburban family at home and the regal. Times are tough, and costs must be cut, and the cost-cutting measure currently under consideration is the cessation of “automatic supply of sealing-wax in guest bedroom,” a measure that the Queen strongly opposes. The Prince of Wales is a vegan, and Princess Louise, who will be our guide in this world, is about to start the school year in a comprehensive school where she will arrive accompanied by bodyguards.
Princess Louise is 13, and this book, in addition to being a fine mystery whose plot I won’t give away (and alternative history, since this royal family is not the same one currently occupying the British throne), is her coming-of-age story. The opening scene contrast between a “regular” family and their highly ritualized existence weighted by tradition and observed by multitudes is not terribly different from how it feels to be 13 just about anywhere. Her slyly funny voice as she observes her changing relationships with her parents and her nanny, Miss Durdon (a very interesting character in her own right, and a woman who knows how to keep a secret) makes the story relatable and engaging.
Julia, Managing Editor
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