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Winner of the American Book Award (now known as the National Book Award)
An ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

When Theo agrees to print a traveling showman's pamphlet, he only thinks of the money it will bring in. Instead, it sets off a chain reaction that results in the smashing of the press and the murder of his master. Caught on the wrong side of the ...

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Winner of the American Book Award (now known as the National Book Award)
An ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

When Theo agrees to print a traveling showman's pamphlet, he only thinks of the money it will bring in. Instead, it sets off a chain reaction that results in the smashing of the press and the murder of his master. Caught on the wrong side of the law, Theo must flee the city. Soon, he has teamed up with the traveling showman Count Las Bombas (who is actually a con artist) and his servant. The trio is soon joined by Mickle, a clever, strong-willed girl with a mysterious past. Performing feats that astound and amaze, the motley crew falls into a trap set by Chief Minister Cabbarus, who is determined to wrest power from the grief-stricken king. Now they must not only save themselves-they must save the kingdom...

This is the first volume in Lloyd Alexander's classic Westmark trilogy.

A boy fleeing from criminal charges falls in with a charlatan, his dwarf attendant, and an urchin girl, travels with them about the kingdom of Westmark, and ultimately arrives at the palace where the king is grieving over the loss of his daughter.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The wisdom of this book lies in its difficult solution: Good does not triumph over evil simply because it is good... Lloyd Alexander does not answer questions; he raises them... He keeps his adventures spinning and in the end we are happy in how it all turns out." —The New York Times

"As always, Alexander peoples his tale with a marvelous cast of individuals, and weaves an intricate story of high adventure that climaxes in a superbly conceived conclusion, which... is reached through carefully built tension and subtly added comic relief." —Booklist, starred review

Children's Literature
The first in a trilogy, this book is one of war, violence and love. Marked with a sprinkling of dry humor, this is the tale of Theo, a strong-willed orphan and his companions, two of whom are Count Las Bombas, a crooked man, and the girl with whom he falls in love, the mysterious and opinionated Mickle. Theo sets out on a journey of desperation after becoming involved in a murder. The town of Westmark is in a state of complete chaos; the King is on his deathbed, leaving the opportunity for a controlling, power-hungry man to take over, and the Princess is missing. In the end, it becomes Theo's personal quest to save the city while facing a decision between right and wrong. This winner of the ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults award is a treat to read. Because of its intense combination of humor and danger, this book will appeal to readers of all genres. Alexander does an incredible job, once again, of telling a story full of magical wonder. 2002, Penguin Group,
— Sarah Hammond
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141310688
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Series: Firebird Series, #1
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 299,388
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 4.30 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007) was the author of numerous books for children and adults, including highly acclaimed, classic fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydain and The Westmark Trilogy. His books have won numerous awards and accolades including the Newbery Medal, the Newbery Honor and the National Book Award.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Theo, by occupation, was a devil. That is, he worked as apprentice and general servant to Anton, the printer. Before that, he was lucky enough to be an orphan, for the town fathers of Dorning prided themselves in looking after their needy. So, instead of sending him away to the King’s Charity House, where he would be made miserable, they arranged the same for him locally. He was farmed out first to a cooper, then to a saddler, and in both cases did badly. Accidentally, he had learned to read, which in some opinion spoiled him for anything sensible. Anton finally agreed to take in the boy and teach him his trade.

Theo proved good at this work, and he and his master dealt very well with each other. Anton never whipped his devil, and Theo never gave him cause. Once thickset and muscular, Anton had begun sagging a little around the middle. His passion was his press, and he was forever fussing with it. Since he kept all the smudges for himself and his clothing, his pages came out spotless. He was, in fact, a fine craftsman. Scholars from the university at Freyborg had brought him treatises to print. The business dried up after the king appointed Cabbarus chief minister. By order of Cabbarus, official approval was required for every publication; even a text on botany was eyed with suspicion. Anton was reduced to turning out visiting cards for the gentry and billheads for the tradespeople. He was no worse off than other printers in Westmark. A number had been arrested, and some of them hanged. So, to that extent, he was considerably better off.

As for Theo, he loved virtue, despised injustice, and was always slightly hungry. Apart from that, he was reasonably happy.

One day in early spring, Anton went out on business, leaving his devil in charge. Theo cleaned and sorted letter blocks, finished his other chores by the end of the afternoon, and was ready to close shop when a dwarf came in strutting like a gamecock.

A riding coat swept to the little man’s boot heels, an enormous cocked hat perched on the side of his head. He stood, hat included, no higher than the middle button of Theo's jacket. In swagger, he took up more room than half a dozen taller men.

Theo was glad to see any size of customer, but before he could wish him good-day or ask his business, the stranger went peering into the ink pots, rattling the wooden cases, fingering the stacks of paper, and squinting sidelong at the press.

At last he stopped, hooked his thumbs into his waistcoat, and declared, in a voice half bullfrog, half bass drum, “Musket!”

Theo, bemused, could only stare. The dwarf snapped his fingers.

“Musket! That’s my name.”

The dwarf shook his head impatiently, as if Theo should have known without being told, then waved a hand around the shop.

"You're the only printer, I suppose, in Upper Dismal or whatever you call this place?"

"Sir," began Theo, "to tell you the truth—"


"What I mean is I'm not the printer. I'm only his devil."

"You're a big one, then. I'll say that much for you," replied Musket. "You'll do. You'll have to."

The dwarf whipped off his hat, loosing a burst of ginger-colored hair, reached into it, and pulled out a number of closely written scraps of paper. He tossed them on the counter.

The pages, from what Theo glimpsed, were the draft for some sort of tract or pamphlet.

"To be printed up. And nicely. No cheap-jack work. It's for Dr. Absalom. He's world-famous. You've heard of him."

Theo admitted he had not, adding that he had never been out of Dorning.

The dwarf gave him a look of pity. "A grown lad like you? And never away from this hole-and-corner? You aren't much in the swim of things are you?"

Musket now turned his attention to the pamphlet. Tapping his thumb against his fingers, he began rattling off the number of copies, the size, the quality of paper the world-renowned Dr. Absalom insisted on.

The little man was talking about more work than the shop had seen in a year. Theo began calculating in his head how much it would all come to. Musket spared him the trouble by offering his own price, a handsome one, better than handsome. Theo's heart sank at what he heard next.

"Needed tomorrow," said Musket. "First thing."

"Tomorrow? We can't. There's not enough time."

"Take it or leave it. Tomorrow or not at all." The dwarf rocked back and forth on his heels.

Theo's mind raced. He could not bring himself to turn down such a piece of business. With a master craftsman like Anton, the two of them working all night at top speed, it was possible, though barely so. But the decision was Anton's to make. Theo had never promised work on his own.

"What's it to be, then?" demanded Musket.

"You'll have it. By noon."

The dwarf shot a finger at him. "Nine."

Theo choked a little. "By nine."

"Done!" Musket clapped on his hat and made for the door. "I'll be here to fetch them."

Theo had not a moment to waste. Anton would be overjoyed – or furious with him for making promises he could not keep. From the first days of his apprenticeship, Anton had taught him that his word, once given, must be counted on. As soon as Musket had gone, Theo began studying the scraps of paper to see how best he could arrange his work.

Dr. Absalom, he read, boasted powers of magnetism, hypnotism, and the secret of eternal youth. He also offered to cure, at a modest fee, warts, gout, gallstones, boils, and every other ailment afflicting humankind.

It was rubbish, written surely by Dr. Absalom since only an author could have such a good opinion of himself. Theo had read every book in his master's storeroom: law, science, natural philosophy. Unschooled, he was awed by the learned professors of Freyborg. He could imagine what they would say of the self-styled doctor. Nevertheless, the dwarf had come bursting in like a wind from a world beyond anything Theo knew. He was fascinated in spite of himself and half-believing. His common sense nagged at him. He ignored it.

When Anton came back it was past nightfall. Theo was still at the type case. He stopped only to light candles. His hand darted over the maze of wooden pigeonholes, snatching up letter after letter and dropping the pieces of type into the composing stick in his other palm. The scrape of Anton's boots on the plank flooring startled him. He left off and hurried to greet the printer, who was wearily shedding his coat.

Anton's face, usually cheerful, was gray and pouchy. Theo, full of his good news, decided that keeping it for dessert would make it all the better, and offered to heat a pot of lentils for his master.

"No, no thank you, lad. I lost my appetite at the notary's. I stopped to remind him of the small matter of his unpaid account. He let me cool my heels while he ate a hot supper. Then he swore if I troubled him again he'd have the law on me."

"He can't. The law's on your side. It says so in Wellek's Legal Commentaries. You know that. You printed it yourself."

"That was before Cabbarus. Books are one thing; how the world goes now is another."

"King Augustine must have been out of his wits," retorted Theo, "taking Cabbarus for any kind of minister, let alone, the highest in the kingdom."

"Out of his wits? Yes, with heartbreak, losing the princess and not another child since then. And that's six years gone. Queen Caroline faced up to it better than he did. More's the pity, he could have been a good king."

"I can understand it broke his heart. The one to blame is Cabbarus," said Theo. "He's the one who speaks for the king. No, he does worse than speak. He lays down the law, if you can call it that, for there's no justice in it. He has every printer in Westmark by the throat. Well, I wish I had him by the throat. I wish somebody would—"

"Enough," said Anton. "I don't want to hear that sort of talk. I taught you better than that. Oh, I'll stand up for what's right. And heaven help whoever lays a finger on my press, for he'll have me to deal with. But neither you, nor I, nor anyone can judge whether a man's fit to live or die."

Theo grinned at him. "That's from De Rerum Justitiae. I've been reading it."Anton chuckled. "Well then, you know as much as I do. Is that how you spend your time when I'm out of the shop? I suppose you could do worse. What are you up to now? I saw you pegging away, but there's now work on hand."

Theo could no longer hold back his news. "There is. It might even be too much."

He quickly told Anton what had happened. Instead of reproaching him, Anton brightened instantly. When he saw how far Theo had already gone with the task, he clapped him on the back and seized and ink-stained apron.

"Good lad! I couldn't have managed it better. We may break our backs, but we'll finish in time to suit this fellow Muskrat or whatever he calls himself."

He bustled around the shop, putting out iron frames, blocks, and wedges so as to have all at hand. Theo hurried back to his typesetting and soon lost track of the hours, not even hearing the town clock. Anton, flushed and inky, readied the press. Well before dawn, they began drawing proofs of the first pages.

Theo had picked up a sheet of paper when a battering at the door startled him. He thought, first, that Musket had come for his work sooner than promised; but the pounding was more violent than the dwarf, with all his impatience, could have produced.

He ran to the front of the shop. As he did, the door splintered, burst from its hinges, and crashed inward. Two men in uniform shouldered past him.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2000

    Not the greatest!

    does not have all the good qualities. drones on and does not start getting interesting until the 2nd half.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2013

    I've loved almost every book I've read by Lloyd Alexander and th

    I've loved almost every book I've read by Lloyd Alexander and the Westmark Trilogy is no exceptions. Long before the Hunger Games and
    before City of Ember there was Westmark! Great commentary on politics and war mixed with a great dose of adventure. Quick, easy, and
    fun to read, but it still has a lot to say. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2007

    A reviewer

    Totally Awesome! I think it rocks a lot. Sweetness. Better than bacon.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2006

    A Gem Among Books

    How many times have I read this trilogy? I've lost count. But whenever someone asks me, 'What do you recommend that I read?' the first reply off my lips is 'Westmark, of course.' It was the Westmark Trilogy that inspired me to write a book. With his usual dry wit, lively characters, and sweeping narrative, Alexander has produced a story so vivid and rousing that you want to just jump in and join Theo, Mickle, and Las Bombas. And its bittersweet ending leaves you more satisfied than most books I have ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2004

    What can I say? IT'S LLYOD ALEXANDER!!!!

    Llyod Alexander is one of the best writers ever. He wisks you away to places you've only - or never - imagined. He writes with the interesting plots of JRR Tolkien, the truth of C.S. Lewis, the passion of Susan Cooper, blending them all into a style all his own. Take a look. You'll love it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2003

    THE BEST!!!!!!!

    The whole series is unforgetable! The characters are so awesome! I couldn't put the book down! THANKS LLOYD!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2003

    makes you want to read on

    I have read a lot of books but, this book keeps you hooked and makes you want to read on.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2002

    an exciting novel

    I am teaching in an International school here in Bangkok, Thailand, and I have to teach Advanced Reading to Grade 9 students. Westmark is a part of our textbook and I read it before I told students to read it, to see if it is really worth reading. I found out that it is really exciting and full of suspense. The reader would all the time be guessing what would happen next-- only to find out that the next event is more exciting than what was expected.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2000

    Buy It Immediately!

    A friend of mine told me that she had been reading some books by Lloyd Alexander--she said they were 'pretty good'. So, since I didn't have anything to read at the time, I checked them out of the library--and could not put them down. Literally. Lloyd Alexander is almost incredibly good at his job. Once you start reading his books, you're basically trapped and it's -very- hard to stop reading until you're done with all of them you can find, so I wouldn't recommend picking one up at ten o'clock at night! Not only are Lloyd Alexander's books absolutely enthralling, they're excellent in that they give your mind something to chew on. The plot is never hard to follow, but there is usually a moral dilemma that everyone needs to think about. Okay, the books are awesome, so I'll quit.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2000


    this is the best book i have ever read and i think all ages will enjoy it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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