This is the first book in Alexander’s Westmark Trilogy. I read Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain” when I was in middle school and really liked it. When I realized that I had never read this series I had to grab it up. It is a wonderful young adult series and the fact that it still reads well (over twenty years after being written) is a testament to Alexander’s exceptional style of fantasy writing.
Theo is an apprentice to a printer in a time where the monarchy is becoming increasingly stringent about printed materials. During an inspection Theo and his master run afoul of the Royal inspectors and in a fit of rage Theo smashes one of the inspectors with a part of the printing press. Theo’s master is killed and Theo becomes a criminal on the run. Shortly after fleeing town he meet up with Dr. Absalom, who is not as much of a doctor as he says and much more a rogue, and a midget named Musket. There crazy adventures eventually have them grouping up with Mickle, a girl thief who is much more than she first seems. Theo partakes in some wild adventures and struggles with the morals of the livelihood he is making as a rogue, he eventually tries to make a honest living, but that only ends up with him deeply embroiled in politics that could make or break the country.
This book was a wonderful classic young adult fantasy. You have Cabbarus, the evil chief minister, who is a wonderful villain. You have an ailing king, who puts the lineage of the throne at risk. Theo is a young boy who struggles with his solid morals, as actions that should be honorable end up not being right. The characters are well-woven and make for interesting reading. In fact the characters show an admirable level of maturity and reasoning throughout the book. The plot moves a little slow, but everything that happens in this book happens for a reason so it is a very tightly woven story. The writing is excellent and fits the mode of the story perfectly.
There are some excellent actions scenes, lots of intrigue, and plots woven within plots. This is a book that makes you think in order to follow all the threads of plot that are happening. There is a lot of delving into morals and violence and what is wrong and right. I was amazed at how complex the story was for such a short book. Definitely an excellent read. It would be appropriate for all ages, but younger readers might not be able to follow all the intrigue and ethics discussion that goes on.
I look forward to reading the next book in this series “The Kestrel”. “Westmark” is a must read for young adult fantasy lovers. The plot may drag a bit at parts, but the story is intricate and interesting. I did like “The Chronicles of Prydain” better; those books were an easier and more engaging read, but “Westmark” is close in quality and definitely a classic.