cover image Shadow of a Hero

Shadow of a Hero

Peter Dickinson, Peter Dickerson. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (294pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32110-5

In the tradition of his AK and The Seventh Raven, Dickinson's spine-tingling, heart-stopping new work provides a glimpse of the elusive, unsettling and highly personal truths that often lurk behind terse political headlines. Descended from two renowned national heroes of Varina (a tiny, fictional Eastern European country), English-born Letta remains largely uninvolved with Varina's culture, until the dissolution of the Eastern bloc raises the possibility of Varina's reunification. Letta is immediately involved as the granddaughter of Restaur Vax II, the country's last democratically elected prime minister. Restaur Vax is himself the great-grandson of another charismatic leader, the warrior and poet whose exploits during Varina's brief but glorious period of independence in the 1820s are celebrated (and raised to near-mythical status) in nationalistic folktales known as the Legends. As the author describes Letta's visit to post-Ceausescu Romania and the trip's complex effects, he precedes each chapter of Letta's story with a Legend, gently hinting at the ever-shifting relationships among historical fact, fable and literature. As moving as it is thought-provoking, this extraordinary novel not only imagines a specific political event but provides a guide to interpreting historical and social conflicts all over the world. It is a testimony to Dickinson's persuasive storytelling that he can introduce a word that exists only in the made-up language of a fictional land, and, by tale's end, use it to bring tears to a reader's eyes. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)