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Westmark    by Lloyd Alexander order for
by Lloyd Alexander
Order:  USA  Can
Puffin, 2002 (1981)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This first in the Westmark trilogy seems the typical fantasy adventure at the beginning. The author presents to us a mythical kingdom with a weak king (overcome by the loss of his only daughter), a troubled queen and the usual sort of villain - Cabbarus the chief minister - attempting to take over the kingdom. Indeed the plot itself is not unusual, but it's all in the details. They bring this tale to vibrant life, engage the reader with many unusual characters, and ask some good questions about morality during revolt against oppression.

Westmark's hero is a devil ... the orphaned Theo is apprentice to a printer. Since free press is always one of the first targets of an oppressive government, Theo's life is quickly overturned and he is sent into flight from the law. During this episode, Theo responds with a violence that disturbs him and influences his later actions. On the road he joins up with the charming travelling showman (but not very skilled con artist) Count La Bomba and his dwarf servant Musket. Their show only takes off after they take on the brilliant urchin Mickle.

Of course Mickle, plagued by continual nightmares, is much more than she seems. She touches Theo's heart, already sorely troubled by the morality of their spirit act (which uses a phrenological head). Unwilling to continue hoaxing strangers and concerned that his presence might endanger Mickle, Theo leaves the group and ends up amongst revolutionaries, out to overthrow the monarchy. When he finds out that the Count and his associates have been imprisoned, Theo enlists the help of his new friends.

A series of exciting events lead to a confrontation with Cabbarus and with the king and queen. The resolution of the mystery at the heart of the story is not a big surprise but is handled very well. The developing romance between Theo and Mickle is drawn with a light touch and has an unusual, but satisfying, resolution. But what I particularly liked in this tale was Theo's questioning of the rightness of the actions of the usual fantasy heroes, especially acts of the revolutionary noble Florian, whom he admires. I look forward to seeing him find more answers in the remaining books of the series.

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