The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett is a multi layered intriguing novel which captures the horror, isolation and frightening aspects of WWII from a child’s perspective. Intermingled with the power, destruction and ruthlessness of England’s regal history, more specifically the path to the crown taken by Richard III, this is a fascinating novel.
Two children, Cecily and Jeremy, are sent to live in the country, with their mother and Uncle Peregrine, to escape the bombings on the city of London. Whilst there Cecily and May, the later an evacuee, discover two little boys hiding in a nearby derelict castle.
Jeremy is a fourteen year old boy who is desperate to find his way, to make his mark. Absorbing the newspapers which are brimming with news of bravery, destruction and the war effort, Jeremy finds it hard to just to sit back and wait. He must do something.
One of the most poignant chapters of this novel is Jeremy’s description of his flee to London. His observations of the destruction belie his innocent years, they are soon to be rudely nudged aside. He expends all his energies in rescuing a family from their underground shelter, where not only are they trapped but the gushing water pipes are threatening their immediate chances of survival. Here is the critical moment Jeremy has been waiting for, the absolute need to do something. His young years nearly fail him in terms of his lack of strength, but it’s his experiences when he does set them free, when he does finally achieve what he has been so desperately yearning for, that he truly comes of age …
“I was small, and I’d done one small thing, really: but still it was a mighty thing. Mightier than what power was doing, with its bombs and guns.”
The characters of Cecily and May are equally captivating. Cecily, so used to a pampered existence, of feeling superior, meets her match with May whose quiet intelligence and insight soon capture the respect of the aloof and mysterious Uncle Peregrine. The reader’s attitude towards Cecily develops from dislike to sympathy to encouragement as her attitude indeed develops and slowly matures.
Hartnett’s command of the language, her ability to capture nuances of character and to evoke the power of history together with its lessons for humanity give this novel a depth and power all of its own. This is not just a ghost story, wartime novel, historical drama or coming of age chapter book. It is a powerful read which delves in to the qualities of a human being, unpicks them and presents them to the reader.