The Kingdom of Little Wounds

The Kingdom of Little Wounds

3.3 9
by Susann Cokal

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A 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book! A young seamstress and a royal nursemaid find themselves at the center of an epic power struggle in this stunning young-adult debut. On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit


A 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book! A young seamstress and a royal nursemaid find themselves at the center of an epic power struggle in this stunning young-adult debut. On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit and sweet spiced wine. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne’s heirs, and a courtier’s wolfish hunger for the king’s favors sets a devious plot in motion. Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem — and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined with that of mad Queen Isabel. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
★ 12/01/2013
Gr 10 Up—After a plague fell upon the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn in 1561, Ava and her father were the sole survivors of their family. Eleven years later, Ava, who has been taught to sew, is sent to the royal palace as a seamstress to the queen. Work there is coveted, but it is also beset with danger as there are no limits to the cruelty of the powerful. One prick from a needle into the flesh of agitated Queen Isabel sends Ava to the dungeon until she is retrieved by the villainous Count Nicolas. The count sexually abuses her and then sends her to work in the nursery as his spy, where she meets Midi Sorte. After being kidnapped, chained, sexually brutalized, and brought north by ship, Midi, a "Negresse," was presented as a gift to the court, naked, coated in sugar, and with a sugared plum in her mouth. Desperate to avoid continued mistreatment, the girls claw for survival in a court full of intrigue, disease, and sorrow. Ava and Midi evoke readers' sympathy as believable protagonists in a cast of mad characters. Cokal eloquently presents a grisly and visceral world that she aptly refers to as a "syphilitic fairy tale." There is no glossing over all manner of sexual abuse, miscarriages, death, and so on. After a gripping stroll through 550 pages, readers are left with a satisfying ending of justice and hope for Ava and Midi. This novel is distinctive in thought and elocution, but it is also dense and full of adult content. It could have a limited audience among teens.—Mindy Whipple, West Jordan Library, UT
Publishers Weekly
★ 09/23/2013
“I have always loved a fairy tale.” So says Ava Bingen, a young seamstress in the palace of the fictional Scandinavian city of Skyggehaven. Dark and bloody fairy tales inform this dense, 16th-century narrative, richly layered with multiple viewpoints: Ava, the mad Queen Isabel, the dangerously weak King Christian, the diabolically ambitious Lord Nicolas, and the mute, literate African nursery-slave, Midi Sorte. In her first novel for young adults, adult author Cokal (Mirabilis; Breath and Bones) explores the landscape of the female body as it has been for so long: property of parents or husband, subject to the needs of family and state. During a time of deadly court intrigue and disturbing portents—a new star in the sky, a muddy vortex in the earth—Ava, Midi, and Isabel negotiate their individual paths of survival until their fates are woven together, giving them a chance to save the kingdom and each other. Though the novel’s frank and upsetting depictions of rape, child-marriage, miscarriage, and syphilis mark this title for mature readers, its brutality, eloquence, and scope are a breathtaking combination. Ages 16–up. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Brazen, baroque, The Kingdom of Little Wounds plots coordinates of history, fever, and magic in such a way that each is occasionally disguised as the other. However, there's no disguising Susann Cokal's immediate rise to eminence as a pantocrator of new realms. I lived in her controversial kingdom for only a week, but I suspect and hope I shall never recover.
—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and What-the-Dickens

There are deep and shallow reading experiences; this is a deep reading experience. There is nothing like it, though the fossil record flashes all kinds of petticoat. (Sigrid Undset. Margaret Atwood.) Elegant, complex, and sharp as a needle.
—Blythe Woolston, winner of the William Morris Prize and author of Black Helicopters

An epic, mercurial tale of astounding beauty, power, and madness.
—Gigi Amateau, author of Claiming Georgia Tate

Complex and carefully crafted -- mesmerizing.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

[T]he novel's ... brutality, eloquence, and scope are a breathtaking combination.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This novel is distinctive in thought and elocution, but it is also dense and full of adult content.
—School Library Journal (starred review)

The events at court are recounted in richly detailed prose that renders immediate the sights and smells of a time when science was deeply intertwined with superstition and politics was a blood sport. ... The novel demands and rewards full immersion in its account of the everyday life, beliefs, and medical practices of the royals, and readers will definitely come away with a (dis)taste for the cultural history of the Renaissance. ... Cokal skillfully and unapologetically blurs the lines between fairy tale and history.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)

[A]lmost de Sadean in its rich, sumptuous details.
—The New York Times Book Review

By combining fantasy with an incredibly realistic depiction of Renaissance Europe, Cokal brings to life a world that easily could have been a true one. Her exquisite descriptions spring off the page and into your senses. Just as easily as you marvel at the ornate details of a gown, you’ll wrinkle your nose at the scent of unwashed courtiers’ bodies and uncleaned chambers. You’ll gasp at the iniquities of the time and root for the unaristocratic underdogs. Cokal makes Skyggehavn as real as any writer can make her fictional realm.

VOYA - Heather Christensen
More historical fiction than fantasy, this novel tells the story of the devastating consequences of the introduction of syphilis among Europe's aristocracy. Framing her story with dark fairy tales whose plots mirror the main narrative, Cokal creates a mystical, shadowy setting full of intrigue and hidden passions. The story takes place in the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn, where two peripheral members of the court—the young seamstress, Ava Bingen, and the mute nursemaid, Midi Sorte—witness the queen's descent into madness and the unusual illness affecting the remaining royal family. Although the two women dislike each other, they find themselves caught up in a dark plot to gain control of the throne. The novel starts off slowly, but the momentum picks up about two-thirds of the way through. Cokal does not shy away from the stark reality of Renaissance life, especially regarding medical practices or the total lack of privacy that royal figures experienced. Less experienced readers may struggle with the complex narrative which shifts between various viewpoints. The dense writing with its layers of symbolism and meaning, as well as the explicit content and subject matter, will be best appreciated by mature readers. Reviewer: Heather Christensen
Children's Literature - Dana Lawrence
In the sixteenth-century town of Skyggehavn, religious and political conflicts are a constant source of anxiety, though the most immediate threat to the stability of this Scandinavian monarchy is disease. The reigning Lunedie family is cursed with an unknown illness, while the fear of Italian Fire permeates every licentious encounter. After accidentally pricking the queen with her needle, seventeen-year-old seamstress Ava Bingen is demoted to nursery maid, waiting on the chronically ill prince and princesses. In the nursery she meets eighteen-year-old Midi Sorte, a Black slave who was purchased for and abused by the queen’s maid of honor. As a result of the noblewoman’s cruelty, Midi is left unable to speak—but she is not left without a voice. Both Ava and Midi are vulnerable to the machinations of the powerful and scheming Lord Nicolas Bullen, who violently fulfills his lustful desires, secure in the protection provided by his position and his unique method of warding off Italian Fire. Though Ava and Midi see each other as rivals—for the favor of Lord Bullen, for the affections of a lover, and for status at court—each finds that there is little pleasure to be found in this dark kingdom. Their individual traumas and efforts to survive the political upheaval that follows the king’s death ultimately draw the two young women together as they search for an escape. This beautifully written novel weaves together historical fiction and fairy tales. The author’s historical note provides excellent insight into the art of blending fact and fiction. While the novel will appeal to readers interested in the history of Renaissance Europe or in the intrigue and scandal of life at a royal court, the graphic descriptions of death and sex, along with depictions of sexual assault, make this book more appropriate for older teens. Reviewer: Dana Lawrence; Ages 16 up.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-09-15
In the royal Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn, in 1572, two women who work in the palace find themselves involved with poisons, intrigue, violence and history. Many voices weave together to form the narrative. Ava Bingen, a seamstress whose fortune changes when she mistakenly pricks the queen with a needle, narrates many chapters. Midi Sorte, the "Negresse" taken aboard a slave ship from an unnamed part of Africa and now a royal nursemaid, tells her story in a stylized, lyrical voice ("I do not like to hold a pen....It feel a silly thing to me, to tell a story through the fingers"). A third-person omniscient narrator adds more perspectives, among them the pained, ineffective king, Christian V, who loves a ruthless male adviser, and Christian's petulant, bloodthirsty daughter, Beatte. Interspersed throughout are short fairy tales with dark twists--a princess rewarded for her craftiness when she steals from a girl who eats a poisoned apple, for instance. The story never disguises the grotesque and public nature of bodies or the violence of the court. Readers frequently see Christian talking to his beloved Nicholas while seated at his toilet stool or doctors meticulously examining royal women's genitals. Both Ava and Midi experience rape at the hands of a powerful man, and Midi in particular is routinely dehumanized, lending the story a sad ring of authenticity. Though the publisher suggests a 16-plus audience, it is not beyond sophisticated younger teens. Sometimes bleak, but complex and carefully crafted--mesmerizing. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
930L (what's this?)
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Susann Cokal is the author of two adult novels, Mirabilis and Breath and Bones, and her short stories and literary criticisms have been widely published in literary journals and The New York Times Book Review. This is her first novel for young adults. Currently an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, she lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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The Kingdom of Little Wounds 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Amazing plot twist has everyone hooked
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The prose in this book is just awful. The plot is awful. I skipped to the end of the book and found it to be even worse. *Spoiler* If you have to end your book with two maids finding jewels within a servered manhood, you are a terrible author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok it my nit be teen appropriate but it is a great read based on historical truths that are birthed through realistic characters and beautiful writing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No. definately No ! Not a YA book. If a young adult wished to read about the dark side of society, I recommend any of Anne Perry's novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is in no way suitable for anyone under the age of 17. I almost couldn't read some parts. Both Barnes and Noble and my public library put this in the Young Adult section, but you shouldnt't be fooled.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is by no means a book for younger readers. The politics and power struggles and sex/rape that entails with them are not glossed over. I don't know why the author chose a young adult audience, this book could have been easily and successfully marketed to adults, but I would never recommend it to anyone under 17.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book thinking I would pass it on to my daughter. When I realized the underlying theme was about syphillis as welll as a descriptive rape and a very bloody miscarriage I quickly returned the book. I tried to mention the "YA" category was misleading but was told that's just the way it is. If you're trying to raise your kids with positive Christian influences this book wouldn't help. I know kids are exposed to all manner of things these days but I wouldn't deliberately support exposing a young teen to this.