The Kingdom of Little Wounds

 
(i)

 

Brutal, breathtaking historical epic is graphic but great.
ALA Best and Notable Books

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers will learn about the way syphilis spreads and how it was regarded in the Middle Ages. Mature readers will also pick up on the court intrigue of how a medieval Scandinavian kingdom worked. The thoroughly researched novel goes into details about the way the king and other royals interact with their inner circle, other nobles, and servants. The author's note at the end of the book is also quite educational about medieval kingdoms, the politics of court life, and yes, the rise and spread of diseases like syphilis.

Positive messages

The overarching message is that if you have a strong will to survive you can do almost anything to stay alive, even under the most horrific of circumstances.

Positive role models

There are few role models in this book, since everyone is morally ambiguous and makes sometimes unthinkable choices in order to stay alive or get ahead.

Violence

Explicit descriptions of the way disease manifests itself and how various people die, are tortured, or go through physical pain (like Midi Sorte having her tongue split in two, or of pus-filled sores exploding, or a woman having a public miscarriage). There are bloody births and deaths and rape scenes, not to mention frank references to rape and sex abuse.

Sex

Candid, occasionally graphic depictions of sex and sex acts (mostly nonconsensual acts, like oral sex, performed by servants on people of power). A woman is technically a virgin but gets pregnant from ejaculate. A man realizes he's gay and finds himself attracted to another man, who eventually becomes his lover.

Language

Occasional strong language like "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and crude references to sex, genitals, whores.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

There's a fair amount of drinking and substance use in the book. People are poisoned and medicated for ailments (real or imagined). Adults drink at parties and feasts.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal is a historical fantasy that was named a 2014 Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book. The author's first novel is intricately plotted and focuses on the royal house of a fictional 16th century Scandinavian kingdom, specifically on the way a seamstress and a mute nursemaid handle all of the court intrigue involved in a royal family that's plagued by a mysterious illness the reader realizes is syphilis. Given the nature of the plot, and the graphic depictions of violence, rape, sex, disease, childbirth, and death -- it's a book best suited for the most mature of teen readers, who can handle the heavy themes and candid language.

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What's the story?

Author Susann Cokal describes her debut novel, THE KINGDOM OF LITTLE WOUNDS, as a fairytale about syphilis. Indeed, the award-winning historical epic is just that: an epic fantasy about a fictional 16th century Scandinavian kingdom, Skyggehavn, where the entire Lunedie royal family, and its court, is plagued by a mysterious illness. It's told primarily from the perspective of two servants -- seamstress Ava Bingen, who could have lived happily in the capital's merchant class had it not been for a horrible tragedy, and mute, foreign nursemaid Midi Sorte, who says nothing but observes everything. Both women are forced to service (in every way of the word) an evil, scheming courtier, who eventually worms his way to the king's inner circle, causing violence and destruction throughout the court.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Court intrigue, duplicitous royal advisers, high-born rapists, and servants who keep and trade sex and secrets to secure their livelihoods -- it sounds more like an episode of Game of Thrones than a young adult novel. Like GoT, Cokal's excellent epic, multiple points-of-view novel isn't easy to read. It's deep and dark and doesn't shy away from squirm-worthy topics like bodily fluids, sexually transmitted diseases, childbirth, child brides (by our standards), and unthinkable medieval violence, prejudice, and social practices.

Ava Bingen and Midi Sorte are clever and strong-willed characters who are wary of each other but eventually realize they must work together given their circumstances in the Lunedie court. They have to do unsavory and unethical things to survive, but they're still the most sympathetic characters in the story -- with the possible exception of the youngest of the disease-stricken Lunedie children. There are characters so hateful you'll cheer at their demise, but no one is completely blameless. In Cokal's medieval universe, as in real life, everyone is a shade of gray and happily ever afters are rare; the best anyone can hope for, whether titled or the lowest of born, is a sense of freedom, agency, and fulfillment.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what makes a book a young adult novel. Is the age of the protagonists? But what if the characters would have been considered adults in the time period of the book? Some critics who otherwise loved the book were hesitant to consider it appropriate for teen readers. What do you think?

  • The novel isn't about an actual Scandinavian country, but real countries like Sweden, France, and Italy are frequently mentioned. What historical lessons are imparted in the book? Does it make you curious about life in the 1500s?

  • The author says in her notes calls The Kingdom of Little Wounds a fairy tale about syphilis. Discuss what you think she means, and the ways this is a fairy tale (and also a disease tale).

Book details

Author:Susann Cokal
Genre:Fantasy
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Princesses and fairies, Fairy tales, Friendship
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Candlewick Press
Publication date:March 31, 2014
Number of pages:576
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 18
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Award:ALA Best and Notable Books

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Adult Written bylizwinn April 24, 2015
 
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Too much violence
Too much sex
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