Illustration by David Diaz
The setting of this social satire fantasy is in and around the Castle Corona, where we meet the royal family, who seem generally ill-suited to and unhappy with their roles, and some of the peasants in the town near the castle, subjects of the King, with the main focus on two servant children who are brother and sister, Enzio and Pia. They are orphans taken in by Master Pangini, a temperamental man who punishes them often, and they are also unhappy with their lot, dreaming of what it might be like to live in the castle. Other important characters are a mysterious hermit who lives in a hut on the castle grounds, and who serves as a sort of advisor to the King, and a wise woman of the town who is recruited by the Queen to be HER hermit and advisor. The story begins with a theft, and a stolen purse which comes into the hands of Enzio and Pia. It has tokens inside made of gold, and they are torn about what to do with it: turn it in to the authorities, or keep it for themselves. The theft has unsettled everyone at the castle, even though no one is quite sure what has been stolen, and as the King orders an inventory of the royal belongings, he is soon baffled to find all kinds of other things missing. Or is it just the faulty records of his staff? As the story develops, the royals, the peasant children, and the hermits find their lives intertwined in unexpected ways, and everyone ends up doing things and going places they never thought they would. A wise storyteller at the castle puts them all into his stories, helping them see themselves in new ways.
I enjoyed this book, though it’s pretty lightweight emotionally, and the characters all follow the threads of the plot rather woodenly. The plot is clever enough to make it a good read even while sometimes predictable, and no one seems to get into any real danger. The illustrations are many and nicely done, but the medieval flavor doesn’t help draw one into the story, I found. I would not put this book on the same level as Creech’s earlier modern-day works that I’ve read.