Inspired by the so-called Lewis Chessmen, a set of Scandinavian chess pieces carved in the 12th century, the late Sutcliff ( The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup ) has woven a recondite tale about the residents of a garden whose lawn resembles a chessboard. Attended by two Bishops, two Knights, two wardens and eight pawns, the White King and Queen live happily until one of the knights vows his love for the latter. The king's jealousy disrupts the garden's tranquility, prompting the invasion of the evil Red Horde. The two legions engage in a battle (which bears a strong resemblance to a chess game) until the members of the White Company are transformed into the various animals each has consistently dreamed about. Opaque sentences lace the obscure story: describing the Queen during battle, Sutcliff writes, ``And she pressed her face into the cool grass of the garden and kissed it as though her kiss might give it of her own life and wake the strength and life that was its own.'' Thompson's pen and watercolor drawings are equally sophisticated, and hardly geared to a young audience. Adult chess players may well be this book's most appreciative readers. Ages 4-up. (Aug.)
Gr 3 Up-The Lewis chessmen-12th-century Scandinavian walrus-ivory pieces-are the principal characters in this story. The white pieces live in the most beautiful garden in the world. Each one has an animal totem inhabiting his or her dreams. When Alrek, the Queen's Knight, pleads with the lady to love him instead of the King, she refuses, knowing that to do so would destroy the garden. Nevertheless, the resulting discord causes enough of a gap in their defense for the opposing chess pieces to invade, resulting in a game to the death. Just when all seems lost, the white pieces change into their dream animals and overwhelm the invaders. Thompson's pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations combine elements of fantasy and lush foliage with realistic, recognizable depictions of the famous figurines. Although their facial expressions and gestures occasionally change, the chessmen remain true to their static, carved likenesses. The text is set in italics, adding to its dreamlike mood, and is placed within the expansive illustrations. Mature themes and vocabulary, reminiscent of Margaret Hodges's St. George and the Dragon (Little, 1984), limit the audience for this book to older readers, as well to those with an interest in medieval times and tales.-Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA
A picture book for older readers, this is an unusual combination of chess, fantasy, and fable. In a beautiful garden, a young knight declares his love for the queen, who gently but firmly denies him. Despite her denial, a coolness grows between the queen and the king, bringing grief to the garden. Seizing their chance, the enemy, the Red Horde, surge into the garden. In an apocalyptic chess battle, the White Queen and her cohorts are transformed into beings from their dreams and defeat the Red Horde, restoring peace. The watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations seethe with action and movement, evoking the chaos of battle and the tranquility of the garden with equal success. A sophisticated, multi-layered tale, this will require special handling to reach a wider audience.