HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The King’s Shadow
Author: Elizab000000eth Alder
Cover Illustrator: Alexa Rutherford
Publisher: Laurel Leaf Books, republished in 1997
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 12 and up
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Alder, Elizabeth. The King’s Shadow (published in 1995 by Farrar Strauss Giroux, 19 Union Sq. W., New York City, NY 10003; republished in 1997 by Laurel Leaf Books, an imprint of Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York City, NY 10046). It is 1063 during the reign of Edward the Confessor, king of England and Wales, and thirteen year old Evyn is a serf who lives near Carmarthen, Wales, with his father, a widower, on the estate of Lord Rhywallon. His mother Joan and all the little ones had died from a fever the year before. Evyn has dreamed all his life of becoming a storiawr or storyteller. His father’s brother, Uncle Morgan, returns after some eight or nine years’ absence and promptly insults the sons of the powerful neighboring Lord Gryffin who claimed to be king of Wales, at a community feast. I retaliation, they murder whom they think is Morgan and cut off Evyn’s tongue. However, they actually killed Evyn’s father. Morgan rescues the boy but sells him into slavery on the vast estates of Lady Ealdgyth, the common-law wife of Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex, where he, now mute and unable to say his name, becomes known as Shadow. Harold’s sister was King Edward’s wife.
His mistress sends Evyn to a monastery where he is taught to read and write by Lewys, a fellow Welshman. After this, he is made the personal servant, then squire, and finally foster son to Earl Harold, who later becomes the King of England, an is called “the King’s Shadow.” The two travel the countryside together, and Evyn is there for the battles of Carmarthen where Gryffin’s insurrection is destroyed, of Stamford Bridge where the combined armies of Norse King Harald Hardrada and Harold’s own brother Tostig are defeated, and of Hastings or Senlac Hill with the forces of William the Conqueror. History, of course, records that Harold, the last Saxon king of England, dies at Hastings. But what happens to Evyn, now just sixteen? Will he be killed too or will he survive? There are a few oaths, a couple of instances of drinking ale or mead, and a reference to dancing, but otherwise this is good historical fiction, reminding me a little of G. A. Henty as one reads about Evyn’s growth in self-confidence and courage while learning how to deal with both the physical and emotional effects of his injury.
There are two caveats that parents may want to be aware of before choosing The King’s Shadow for their children. First, the descriptions of Evyn’s tongue being cut off and of his father and later uncle being killed, while not overly graphic, might be disturbing to younger or especially sensitive readers. Second, Harold makes a political marriage while he has another wife who had borne his children. It might be a good discussion point to compare this situation with Solomon and his many wives and concubines. It is interesting to see how “professional book reviewers” differ in their opinion of this book. Publishers Weekly calls it a “clunky debut” in which “Characterizations are wooden and oddly distant,” with “clicheed phrases” and “potentially fascinating historical details” that “are poorly integrated into the story.” However, Booklist says that it is a “finely written account” where “Evyn learns about loyalty, honor, and bravery, and he comes to realize that by chronicling the fate of his king, he has actually become a storyteller.” I tend to agree with Booklist, but it makes me wonder if these folks really know what they’re talking about.