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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Occasional strong language like "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and crude references to sex, genitals, whores.
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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.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.