A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
Like GoT, Cokal's excellent epic, multiple points-of-view novel isn't easy to read. 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. 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.
Talk to your kids 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).
- Author: Susann Cokal
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Fairy Tales, Friendship
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- Publication date: March 31, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 576
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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