This pseudo-poetic fantasy is the third in Helprin and Caldecott winner Van Allsburg's trilogy that began with Swan Lake. It continues the saga of an unnamed queen defending her country against the evil Usurper, but shows only brief glimpses of the savvy humor of A City in Winter. The narrator here is an unnamed former torture victim who has been promoted to knight and chief strategist for the queen. Members of the perfidious Tookesheim family, fawning helpmates to the Usurper in the previous book, have now corrupted the queen's empire. Once the Usurper begins a fresh assault on the kingdom, the rest is war--and tragedy ensues. The queen's logic becomes tangled to the point of being laughable: for example, after insisting her men carry a wounded soldier with them (which understandably slows their escape), she is ""astonished"" to find the troop travels more slowly than they would have otherwise. A mute, starving child is rescued and extravagantly nurtured by the queen, then never mentioned again. Throughout, profound yet impenetrable bits of wisdom are doled out by the narrator. Referring to the queen's potential separation from her infant son, he intones: ""The saddest thing in the world was for a parent to have his child loosed upon the wing...."" The lavish volume features a few richly magical paintings that rank among Van Allsburg's best work: red trees being lifted up by pulleys to the top of a castle, cattle catapulted through the air. Only these make the book worthwhile. All ages. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997 Release date: 10/01/1997 Genre: Children's
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