What a ride this story is! I had only read the first few chapter when I sat down with it last night, but I literally did not get up or put it down until I had finished it! Diane Stanley writes as though it is historical fiction, which I suppose it is since the time setting (though unclear) is probably during the Middle Ages during the feudal system. Though we have never heard of the countries of Westria or Austlind, we easily imagine them to be somewhere in France, Germany, or Austria many ages ago.
It takes talent to tell a story giving the aura of a particular time and place without specifically stating it. But I think it takes even more talent to believably insert the element of fantasy and weave it throughout the story so that it bonds seamlessly with the historical fiction.
For what else but fantasy could you call a particularly magical silver bowl that calls to the servant girl who polishes the silver and shows her scenes from the past and the future? The bowl, in fact, was made by the girl's grandfather, who was magical himself and was forced to put inside the bowl 100 curses specifically designed for the royal family. The silversmith was clever though, and put in a Guardian to watch over the curses -- to let them out when it was safe, and to keep them inside the bowl when they grew too dangerous. It is the Guardian who calls to Molly and warns her of the plot against the King of Westria.
When silvery looking wolves enter the palace and kill all the royal family in the banquet all (and none others), what could Molly do but grab her friend Tobias and save the last prince, who mercifully had gone out of the room. Even as it was, he was fearfully wounded with a bite in the shoulder. But Molly and Tobias serve him faithfully, first because he is their sovereign lord, but later because they have true love and respect for him. For he, alone among all his family, learns how the people in his kingdom live by borrowing their clothes and eating their food and hiding among the poor in a monastery until he regains his strength. Here is one of my favorite scenes just before they make their way to the monastery:
Tobias cut a thick slice of bread, set a hunk of Margaret's cheese upon it, and handed it to the prince. Alaric took a bit, then grunted and spat into the bushes, The saints protect me!" he cried. "This bread is wet!"
"It rained my lord," Tobias said.
"And the cheese is revolting."
"I'm afraid it was all that Margaret had to offer us."
"So is this what you people eat? Can you possibly like it?" He asked this as though it were a real question.
"It drives the hunger away, my lord."
The prince gazed long at Tobias, who sat quietly upon the ground, the loaf in one hand, a knife in the other, his expression remarkably calm.
"So it does," Alaric said. "So it does. Now, I believe I shall have a cup of that exceptional ale, if you please, to wash down this delicious cheese."
I turned my head so he wouldn't see me smile.
Here we see the prince growing and learning, becoming a better man who is prepared to be king by changing his expectations because of necessity while still trying to have a good attitude. Throughout the story, Molly grows and changes as well--from a street beggar who is quick with her fists and tongue, into a lovely young woman, who is compassionate, brave, and loyal. In this way, there are several characters in the book that are admirable both for their character and also for being teachable and willing to change and learn from others.
I'd love to share this story with all the young people I know (and some of the older ones as well!). This book is definitely going onto the list to be purchased and reread over and over again!