A Fantasy Finale
Newbery Medal winner Cynthia Voigt has penned a number of highly acclaimed novels for teens and young adults, among them her popular Kingdom series, which began with the fantasy tale Jackaroo, about a mythical and legendary Robin Hood-type outlaw. Two more stories followed: The Wings of a Falcon and On Fortune's Wheel, all set in the imaginary land known as the Kingdom during a time period with a strong medieval flavor. Now Voigt finishes out the series with another extraordinary adventure: Elske, the story of a young girl who escapes a destiny of certain death and goes on to play a substantial role in the history of the Kingdom. As with many of Voigt's other works, the protagonist in Elske is an admirable role model, a strong, independent, and determined young woman who embraces such values as honesty, integrity, and fairness in a world where brutality and violence often reign.
Raised among the barbaric Wolfers of Volkaric, 12-year-old Elske has been in preparation for her death her entire life. For she was chosen at birth to be the "death maiden," and her life is soon to be sacrificed to please the Volkking. But Elske's grandmother, who has raised her since infancy, pulls off a bit of last-minute chicanery so that she is the one sacrificed instead. Not only does Elske escape, but the trickery goes unnoticed by most of the villagers, a fact that will be key to the fate of both Elske and the Kingdom a few years hence.
Fate and circumstance land Elske in the far more civilized city of Trastad, where she finds work as a servant. Her lowly working status and Wolfer heritage make the people of Trastad highly wary of her, but soon her calm intelligence, friendly manner, and lack of guile earn her the respect and affection of most. When a rebellious noblewoman named Beriel, who has a reputation for being difficult, arrives in Trastad during the Winter Courting season in search of a husband, Elske is assigned to serve as the woman's handmaiden. It's a task Elske takes to with relish, and before long a bond is formed between the two women that will prove to be fateful for them both. For Beriel is the rightful heir to the throne of the Kingdom and is intent on a quest to claim her just birthright. But first she must escape the bonds of exile forced upon her by her own flesh and blood: a vindictive and jealous brother who would have the throne for himself. And part of this brother's efforts to destroy his sister have been painfully successful, forcing Beriel and Elske into a conspiracy of secrets that will seriously test the mettle of both women and jeopardize their futures.
Voigt paints the Kingdom and its surrounding lands in such brilliant detail that it's surprising to realize the region can't be found on any map of the real world. The characters are developed with amazing depth and singularity, allowing readers to fully immerse themselves in Voigt's fantasy world and connect with its inhabitants on an emotional level that is both engaging and gratifying. As a stand-alone story, Elske is an imaginative and stimulating tale of fantasy, romance, and high adventure that is sure to please readers who are new to Voigt's work. For those who have been fans all along, it will undoubtedly trigger mixed feelings. There is satisfaction to be found in the closure Elske brings to the saga of the Kingdom, but also a nostalgic sadness over this last visit to a land and a people that Voigt has brought to such vivid and memorable life in the minds and hearts of her readers.
Voigt, the 1983 Newbery Medal winner for Dicey's Song,' once again demonstrates her knack for creating characters readers feel they know. In Elske the important characters are complex, made familiar and intriguing by the author's attention to physical description and insights into their thought processes and reactions to each other. Voigt's fantasy world is complex and believable, peopled by diverse cultures in a foreign geography that seems somehow recognizable.
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The fourth and final title in Voigt's Kingdom cycle (begun with Jackaroo) is thrilling, from its dramatic opener to its stunning climax. Newcomers to the Kingdom books can read it with as much pleasure as fans of the entire series (and without ruining for themselves the surprises of those previous works). Set in an imaginary continent that resembles medieval Europe, the story begins in the brutal realm of the Wolfers, a ruthless people among whom 12-year-old Elske has been raised and, horrifyingly, chosen for a sacrificial death. How Elske escapes this fate is the first of many ingeniously plotted turns, reversals that depend on the heroine's intelligence and determination rather than coincidence or authorial sleight-of-hand. There is much to marvel at. Voigt demonstrates a remarkable breadth of imagination in dreaming up the customs of the various lands Elske moves through; e.g., a Scandinavian-type city builds a thriving economy by hosting biannual "courting winters" for young marriageable, wealthy foreigners. The cast also includes a princess wrongfully deprived of a throne (and willing to go to war to claim it) and a man worthy of Elske but chosen for one of the princess's sisters. The characterizations are as sharp and uncompromising as Voigt's readers have come to expect, and the narration never tips the author's hand. This spellbinding work continually challenges readers to keep up with its far-seeing, swift-thinking protagonist. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) FYI: The Vermeer masterpiece that appears on the jacket, Head of a Girl (a painting that also appears this season on the cover of the adult novel Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier), links Elske with the simultaneously reissued paperback of another novel in the Kingdom cycle, On Fortune's Wheel (S&S/ Aladdin, $5.50 -82957-4), the jacket of which features Vermeer's Woman Reading a Letter. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2000: In Elske, Voigt has created two strong young women who play crucial roles in the history of the Kingdom: Elske, a stranger, whose courage and intelligence enable the survival of Beriel, who becomes Queen of the Kingdom with Elske's help. The first part of the book belongs to Elske. Voigt tells of Elske's role as Death Maiden in the brutal tribe she was raised in. Elske's escape leads her to a land of traders, where she earns her keep as a servant and spy, and where she meets the rebellious Beriel, who refuses to allow her brother to unlawfully grab her throne. The two young women leave the traders after near tragedy and travel to Beriel's Kingdom in order to raise the army to defend her and place her on the throne. Voigt uses all her powers as a skillful writer to create this fascinating world for her readers. In the way that The Thief suggests a Mediterranean culture in classical times, Voigt's Kingdom suggests Europe in the Dark Ages, with Elske's tribe representing the worst kind of superstitious, vicious barbarians. In a "Historical Note" at the end of the novel, Voigt adds that during Beriel's reign, the shift began from an agricultural society to a mercantile one, and in the course of the novel, we learn that a black powder that explodes is being introduced in warfare. These are hints as to where Voigt wants us to place her imagined land in a history we can understand. Rich language, a complicated plot, exotic settingsthese are challenging for most readers, but also welcome in enriching literature for YAs. The cover art, a Vermeer painting of a young woman, is exactly right. KLIATT Codes:JS*Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1999, Simon & Schuster, 245p., $10.00. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
Midwest Book Review
Cynthia Voigt's Elske is recommended for mature teens who like complicated young adult plots: Elske escapes her repressive animal-like people to live with a princess who comes to rely on her strengths and wise advice. Political chaos accompanies the vanished princess' attempt to regain her throne and involve Elske in some dangerous confrontations with past and present.
Read an Excerpt
"It was you."
"Yes, my Lady." Elske didn't think this Adelinne, this Fiendly Princess, would fear her, or condemn her; and she was right, for at the acknowledgement the Adelinne smiled, a smile like the warmth of a fire on an icy winter's night, as heady as the wine-rich autumn air they breathed. "It was you. I never thought I'd meet you, and now I have. You gave me courage, two years ago, Elske, and since then, too. I wished to be you, when I didn't even know your name."
The Adelinne reached her hands out from under the cloak she wore, and removed the gloves she wore. She held her right hand out to Elske, as if they were two merchants closing on a sale, and she bowed her head to Elske, as if they were two swordsmen ending a match, and she looked Elske in the eye, as if they were Wolfer captains, about to risk their lives in battle. The girl took Elske's naked hand in hers and said, "I give you greeting, Elske. I am Beriel, who will be Queen in the Kingdom."
Copyright © 1999 by Cynthia Voigt