Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Cup of the World

The Cup of the World

4.5 2
by John Dickinson

See All Formats & Editions

FILLED WITH IMMENSE characters, this thrilling medieval fantasy filled with moral complexity and vision announces the arrival of a special new writing talent.

Phaedra, the beautiful daughter of a baron, has been visited in dreams by an elusive knight for almost as long as she can remember. And when his presence becomes a reality, she is forced to choose him and


FILLED WITH IMMENSE characters, this thrilling medieval fantasy filled with moral complexity and vision announces the arrival of a special new writing talent.

Phaedra, the beautiful daughter of a baron, has been visited in dreams by an elusive knight for almost as long as she can remember. And when his presence becomes a reality, she is forced to choose him and a new life over her home and her father. But this sets off a chain of events that she could not have foreseen—a battle between good and evil, which is in turn violent and psychologically compelling. This stunning novel grapples with the huge themes of life, and turns the reader’s expectations upside down again and again, with one vertiginious plunge after another.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dickinson's debut fantasy has lofty ambitions but quickly gets mired in its own complexity. Phaedra, 16, is the only child of the widowed Warden of Trant, one of 10 territories in an unnamed Kingdom. As such, she is sought after for the lands that will come into the hands of her husband upon her father's death; as countless suitors vie for her hand, Phaedra rebuffs them. She holds out for the mysterious knight who appears in her dreams each night, and agrees (through her dreams) to meet with him in person. He turns out to be Ulfin, the March-count of Tarceny, "of whose house no man could say a good thing." She escapes with him by sea, and discovers that the "dreams" are due not to witchcraft, according to Ulfin, but rather what he "prefer[s] to call under-craft," a "gift" from the titular Cup in his possession. Phaedra marries Ulfin, precipitating a war between Trant and Tarceny, which snowballs into a conflict involving the entire Kingdom. Soon, Phaedra's father is dead, she is pregnant, and Ulfin's dark secrets come to the surface. The plot moves slowly and the narrative can be ornate and bulky ("Then the world was blotted out by his arms about her, his lips upon her face, and the thud, thud, thud of her own heart within her chest"). Although Phaedra emerges as an interesting heroine, only determined readers will manage to stay the course to savor her bittersweet victory. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
In this massive first novel, Dickinson serves up a mesmerizing tale of passionate love, forbidden enchantment, and ultimate betrayal, all set in a Shakespearean world of endless battles for empty honors, and angel worship eclipsed by secret rites of dark magic. Beautiful and willful Phaedra falls in love with a knight she has met only in her dreams and forsakes her devoted, widowed father to follow him. But after Phaedra and Ulfin wed, in a strange ceremony performed by a pale priest, Ulfin leaves for war and Phaedra must struggle to save their son from the menacing shadows that threaten him. The novel is long (over 400 pages), and the story is complex and sometimes difficult to follow; arrogant and confident Phaedra herself always feels somewhat distant from us, keeping her own counsel. But the world of Trant and Tarceny that Dickinson has created is vividly realized—we can hear the melodious music of the pipes, see the castle walls "glowing the colour of pale amber," smell the scent of moon roses. Those who love this kind of stately, quasi-medieval, fantasy saga will welcome the appearance of a new master of the genre. 2004, David Fickling/Random House, Ages 12 up.
—Claudia Mills
Intrigue reminiscent of that which distinguished the Byzantine court gradually envelops Phaedra, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the Warden of Trant. Courted by worthy suitors from all regions of the country, Phaedra chooses to marry Ulfin, a mysterious nobleman, without her father's consent. Her decision fractures the tenuous system of alliances keeping the kingdom together, and war ensues. The black magic that Ulfin employs to achieve his goals eventually overshadows everything in his life, to the detriment of his relationship with Phaedra. Dickinson's debut novel is a rich tapestry woven with much obvious care. The characters and the universe that they inhabit become a realm that the reader wants to explore as thoroughly as possible. Phaedra is not a completely likeable character, but it is still simple to feel empathy for her as her foibles and the machinations of others put her and everything she cares for in a vulnerable position. Discerning readers should be able to detect trouble on the horizon for Phaedra's relationship with Ulfin fairly early on. The negative ramifications of choices made impulsively are clear by the end of the book. The story can be read as a cautionary tale about the allure of power, a perennial theme in history. Libraries that include quality fantasy for mature teens will want to add this one to their collections. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, David Fickling Books/Random House, 432p., and PLB Ages 12 to 18.
—Sean Michael Fleming
Dickinson never fails to give readers challenging, complex fantasies; this is such a one. It is set in a world of feudal fiefdoms around a great lake, ruled over by a king. There are frequent skirmishes between the feudal lords as they jockey for power and prestige. Dickinson focuses on Phaedra, a young woman presented to the king in the first chapters. Because Phaedra is beautiful and also the sole heir of her father's lands, she is much sought after as a bride; even the royal family considers her for marriage. She evades all suitors, listening to the voice of an unknown man she hears in her dreams. At the point when she no longer can avoid marriage, this unknown person arranges to meet her outside her father's fortress. He turns out to be the head of a ruling family who are known as outlaws—Ulfin is his name, and she loves him and believes he loves her. They are married in a ceremony by a strange priest, and within weeks, Ulfin is off to fight, leaving Phaedra behind in a strange place, isolated and pregnant. This is a lengthy book, over 400 pages, and the characters are developed carefully. The story is complex, with magic and witchcraft inserted believably, especially since the culture seems medieval, even though it is Dickinson's fantastical creation. The great theme is Phaedra's struggle to believe in Ulfin's love, even though she is faced nearly daily with evidence that he only loves power and he is bound by unusual commitments. Yet, it is never quite so simple, as she learns when she finds out more of the circumstances of Ulfin's family. She grows from a love-mad bride to a devoted mother, until she is forced to choose between her beloved husband and her little son—oneof them must die. Excellent fantasy, and exceptional writing (as we expect from Dickinson). KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Random House, David Fickling Books, 419p. map., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Phaedra, 16, rejects each of her nobly born suitors in turn because none of them can compare to the mysterious young knight who has visited her dreams since her childhood. When at last she meets her beloved in the flesh, she marries him immediately, despite his family's reputation for black magic and his leadership of a territory in near-open rebellion against the King. As her country descends into civil war, Phaedra learns the chilling truth about her husband's powers and finds the strength to save what she holds dear. Slightly formal prose gives the book the sound of a well-worn, classic tale. Subtle foreshadowing and superb pacing heighten the story's impact as Phaedra slowly uncovers the dark secrets underlying her new life. The characters are well rounded, and their motivations often play out in complex territorial politics that make the map a welcome inclusion. Fantasy lovers will revel in glimmering descriptions of Phaedra's country, complete with an invented mythology and a long history of warfare and subjugation. While central to the plot, these details also give the narrative depth and resonance. The corrupting effect of conquest is a weighty subtext for this genre, but Dickinson successfully weaves it into the story in symbolic terms that will remain with readers long after they leave this troubled, beautiful world.-Beth Wright, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A medieval kingdom's power struggle mirrors one young woman's inner turmoil. Proud, beautiful Phaedra has rejected marriage for 17 years, unconsciously comparing her suitors to the literal man of her dreams. When he proves to be flesh and blood (albeit with powers beyond nature), she spurns a royal proposal to escape to his side. Her choice unwittingly plunges her country into civil war, and dark forces seeking release into the waking world will exact a terrible price. While fully realized and deeply human, Phaedra is an unlikable protagonist. She marches through most of her life like a clenched fist; bitter, angry, and willful; deliberately oblivious to the emotional nuances swirling about her. While readers will applaud her fierce independence and determination, they may identify less with her preoccupation with politics, status, and motherhood. The oblique writing style requires close re-reading to follow the complex intrigues and shifting alliances. Still, the lush, sensual descriptions, the carefully revealed backstory, and the taut atmosphere of looming menace all compel attention to the end. Dark and intelligent-for the sophisticated fantasy reader. (Fantasy. YA)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Cup of the World Series , #1
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Cup of the World

Part I: The Man in the Dream

The Courts of the King

Phaedra did not know the way, in the unlit corridors of the King's house. She was following the older girls through the shadowy passages, going by their whispers, the scuff of their feet and the sounds of their suppressed excitement. The noises led her to the left, and then to the right, past storerooms and scroll rooms and rooms for purposes that she could not guess. The shutters on the windows were all closed. No one had thought to bring a light, because it had been bright day outside when they had hatched this plan between them. She supposed that someone up at the front must be leading.

There was a pause ahead. The girls had reached a door. From beyond it there rose a great babble: the sound of a crowd in a large room.

Phaedra had imagined that the royal court was a silent place, like a service in chapel where people only spoke when necessary. She had not expected this unruly noise. Perhaps it would make it easier for them to get into the throne hall without being noticed. She had no idea what would happen after that. She had never seen a witch trial before.

A trumpet sounded from ahead of them. The girls had the door open. Phaedra saw the shapes of their heads and shoulders against the light beyond as they stepped one by one through the doorway. She made her way out after the others onto a narrow wooden gallery that ran along the wall of a huge vaulted hall. The babble she had heard was dying. Somewhere below her, a voice had begun to speak. She found a place at the rail, and drew breath. She knew she should not be where she was, looking down at the throne hall of the King.

It was hard to see.

From the high windows the sun shot, barring the hall with rays. Torches glowed feebly. Gold threads gleamed upon banners that swayed in the columns of heat. Below her was the crowd - knights and barons and nobles, packed against either wall so that the long aisle was clear. Where the sun fell the men stood lit in white silver, every detail plain from the badge of a house to the blink of an eye. Their faces were tense, bearded, craning for a view. Between the light beams was a mass of shapes and silhouettes, in deeper and deeper shadows up the hall to the throne. The air pricked with the sweat of two hundred men in heavy cloth. Little noises washed around the walls: clinks, shifting feet, the squeak of leather, and halfsentences murmured into neighbours' ears. The men spoke like hunters, a-tiptoe in the forests. And the beast that stalked the thickets was the imminence of Death.

She looked at once for her father, down among the mass of unknown men. He must be there - but had he seen her? If he had seen her, he might be angry that she had come when she should not have done. If she was going to have to face that later, it would be better to know now. But she could not pick him out, because she was a stranger to the court and did not know where to look for him. She did not know where he would stand among all these nobles: high, surely, but how near to the King?

She could see the King - that white-bearded figure upon the High Throne. Above him the sun of his house blazoned the wall with dull gold. In the shadow to his right sat a younger man - Prince Barius, upon the Throne Ochre, bolt upright with a sword across his knees. And the younger man to the King's left must be Prince Septimus, who was to be knighted that evening at the same feast during which she was to be presented.

To one side of the thrones stood a small group of bishops, robed and capped with gold, and their tonsured priests. On the other were the chosen officers of the court - a rank of serious faces, with gold chains around their necks. There were guards before the dais. Their helms and axes and polished shoulder-pieces flickered with reflected torch fire.

A baron stood in the aisle, in the last streak of sun before the throne. His black beard and doublet paled in the glare, and the skin of his face was dead white, except for the solid little shadow below the tip of his nose. He was facing full into the light. Surely he could see very little; but every soul in the hall could see him: his heavy brow; his face strong. He must have placed himself deliberately in that ray of sun the moment the trumpets had died. The voice she had heard came from a figure in the gloom beside the baron: a man in a cap and robe who was reading aloud from a scroll.

'. . . Didst consort with fell spirits . . . didst conspire with rebels . . . didst most foully plot violence by magic, against us a baron of the realm . . . we call on our liege for justice and an end to evil . . . that thou shalt suffer death under the law of this land . . .'

Somebody else was standing in the expanse of gloomy flagstones. It was a woman, alone. Her head was bowed a little. And it seemed to Phaedra that not a face in the crowd changed as the charges poured on over this creature. Their frown ran from the steps of the King to the gates of the hall.

Phaedra had not known what a witch would look like. If she had expected anything, it was some cackling nightmare, caged like a beast to thrill a fair. She had not been prepared for a plain woman, only a few years older than herself. So this was the one on whom the baron wanted revenge. This was the woman who would lie in an unshriven grave, buried headless with a stake through her heart. Phaedra drew another long breath, and wondered if her limbs were really trembling in that stifling air.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

John Dickinson worked for the Ministry of Defense, but has taken a sabbatical to concentrate on his writing. This is his first novel. He is married with children and lives near Exeter in England.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The Cup of the World 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Apples_and_Parachutes More than 1 year ago
When I first read this book, I found it hard to get into and strange - I didn't even finish the first chapter. Weeks later, I picked it back up again and didn't put it down. John Dinckinson created a masterpiece full of interesting people, dark secrets, and unexplained magic. This book gave me shivers and I often looked into shadows for tiny demons after reading it, but it was so creative and different from the normal teen books that I found it entrancing. It was terribly confusing up until the very end, which made it all the more fun to read, and I look forward to rereading it in the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
when i started out reading this, i thought 'wow, this is really great, love the characters and the plot.' however, as i moved on from Part 2 onwards, i began to lose interest/become disappointed in the story line. just read the first half and enjoy
Guest More than 1 year ago
I believe this is a wonder book. It really intrigued me and got me to think of how much a lot of girls have to go through a lot of nearly, in a sense, the same things. Girls have to go through choosing the man she wants to marry with careful thought to each person she meets. Though at the same time, they need to be fun and loving. She reminds me a lot of what I was going through so I can relate somewhat to it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to say for this being his first book it was pretty good. At first I could not get into the book cause their is so much detail which is not bad for a story but he wants to ensure that you see the world he has dreamed up which is awesome. But after you get past the first chapter it gets really good their is so much things that happen that you do not expect things that shock you but you just can not put it down .
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started reading the book and I was like 'ok not too bad', but by the time I got to chapter 2 I wanted to put the book down and never look at it again.The only reason I didn't was because I got it as a present. The plot could have been good but the entire thing was just long, boring, and too drawn out. Nothing about the book was that merorable or exciting. the book was just a waste of valuable time...and when I found out there was a sequel don't get me started. Now I'm trying to save you from the 'just shoot me' scenario that will occur when you read this book and be a good citizen...so your welcome.