by Diana Johnson
Category: Fiction / Historical
268 pages; ISBN: 0966150406
Rating: 9/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Paul Lappen
Set in Frankish Gaul (France approximately 1400 years ago), this is the story of Egar, a young man sent out into the world by his Master to find his destiny. Egar can earn a living with his harp, his juggling and some sleight-of-hand taught by his Master, but how can he "change the course of Frankish history" (according to his Master)?
Finding himself in the royal court in Paris, Egar meets Pepin the Vain, nobleman and tutor to Prince Dagobert, son of King Clothar. Egar feels that his destiny is somehow tied to Pepin. Clothar sends Dagobert to rule one of the outlying provinces from a town called Metz. Dagobert is still a child, so Pepin is sent along as Mayor of the Palace (literally, the power behind the throne). Pepin does not have royal blood, but he wants the throne very, very much, and figures this is his chance (he's not called Pepin the Vain for nothing). Dagobert loves the pomp and ceremony of being King, but hates the day-to-day routine; Pepin is only too happy to relieve him of the responsibility for running the palace. One day, Egar, who has accompanied them to Metz, has a vision of a great king; Pepin thinks it's himself, but Egar isn't sure.
Years later, Clothar dies, so Dagobert moves to Paris to become King of all Frankish land. Pepin and Egar stay behind in Metz, which, without a monarch in residence, becomes practically a ghost town. They ride to Paris to convince Dagobert to spend part of the year in Metz. They are shocked to find that the queen has been humiliated and forced into a convent, and that the castle has become a place for all-night partying with lots of prostitutes. The day-to-day business of the kingdom is the farthest thing from Dagobert's mind.
Pepin's ambition gets the better of him on a later trip to Paris to convince Dagobert to clean up his act. Pepin is confined to the castle, and releived of his position as Mayor of Metz. Egar, with help from some sorcery, races back to Metz to tell pepin's family to flee immediately, just minutes ahead of guards from Dagobert.
This one is really good. Pepin feels like a real person (he was a real person; the author can trace her family ancestry back to him), the writing is very well done and shows a lot of research, and, overall, it's well worth the reader's time.