This fantasy series installment showcases the downfall of a despot and the long struggle toward normalcy for his survivors.
Lord Alfred has escaped the battlefield chaos wrought by his mad brother, King John, in the previous series entry, Pestilence (2020). He awakes in a cottage on Lake St. Anne in the Kingdom of Lakes, where his loyal horse, Star Dancer, carried him. There, Lady Gwendolyn, Alfred’s wife, reveals that the cottage belongs to her—a gift from her father to help in the event that her marriage goes irreparably sour. As Alfred recovers from the illness that’s swept the kingdom, Gwen prepares to give birth to their fourth child. After baby Alicia arrives, Alfred receives word from his friends Samuel and Richard that King John has been murdered—stabbed 12 times in his bed. Alfred and his family return to the castle, greeted by lords whom John had spurned during his horrible reign. At Alfred’s coronation, Lady Gunhild disputes Alfred’s claim to the throne, proclaiming that her young son, Gunderik, is John’s biological child. If Alfred is crowned, he’ll have to take creative measures to finance a kingdom that’s nearly broke, due to John’s carelessness. Taylor’s fourth Second Son novel revels in domesticity after the previous volume’s upheavals. John’s death occurs offstage, which helps to maintain a softer tone in a story that often places Alfred’s children in the foreground. As always, careful emotional details distinguish Taylor’s narrative; for instance, Alfred seeks to protect his son, young Prince Geoffrey, from knowing too early the royal weight that he’ll someday carry. Still, despite the relative calmness, Alfred must address several major problems, such as rogue priests, about which he says, “There’s a vast difference between a man speaking his mind and someone urging people to do harm to their fellow man.” These rabble-rousers, and the pestilence subplot, will seem timely to modern readers, particularly in the United States. The possible hidden location of John’s personal fortune adds mystery to the tale, and a kidnapping brings action. A clean-slate finale leaves room for fresh challenges.
A cathartic novel of royalty that emphasizes strong leadership.
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 280
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2020