A none-too-kid-friendly mixture of war story and bureaucratic satire, this tale of a 10-year-old queen's quest to regain her throne suffers from a proliferation of heavy-handed and portentous philosophical passages. ""I began my journey to the city in blindness and confidence,"" says the queen, ""which, if you think of it, is how we must all live, given the nature of our origin and the certainty of our destination."" Helprin (Winter's Tale; A Soldier of the Great War) is at his weakest in his panoramas of an epic war, which are frequently confusing; and strongest in conveying the farcical and magical aspects of the evil Usurper's empire. For example, the enslaved queen is put to work in the yam section of the palace's starch kitchens; she later tours a storage structure of over 600 floors, including a shop for the repair of winter clothing used by podiatrists attached to the rhinoceros-horn carving apprenticeship program. Two-time Caldecott winner Van Allsburg emphasizes the story's dramatic moments rather than its humor. With characteristic poetic stillness and rich depth of color, his paintings cast a warm glow over the icy city. Although the deliberately cryptic narrative style makes for lackluster reading, the book's handsome design with its use of page ornaments and its production on high-quality paper will make it attractive to collectors of finely illustrated works. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/1996 Release date: 10/01/1996 Genre: Children's
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