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.