Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Kingdom of the Sun and Moon, by Lowell H. Press. Maps.
Bellevue, WA, Parkers Mill Publishing, September 2014, trade paperback $11.99 ([xv +] 297 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $0.99.
This Young Adult fantasy (winner of a 2015 Benjamin Franklin Award, for Teen Fiction (13-18 Years), of the Independent Book Publishers Association) is set in Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, home of the Habsburg monarchs of Austria, about 1820. In those days almost all royal palaces had large populations of mice (so did the average citizens’ houses), so the 19th century map of the palace and its grounds is accurate as to the location of the fictional mouse Kingdom of the Double-Headed Eagle.
The König is a tyrant.
His subjects are starving.
And all-out war is fast approaching.
Will a pair of young, courageous
Brothers save their kingdom? (blurb)
The König is the monarch of the mouse kingdom within the Schönbrunn Palace and its grounds. Brothers Sommer and Nesbit live in Long Meadow, a mouse colony in the palace gardens that is far away from the König’s court in the palace itself – but not far enough away.
“It was just as Nesbit was about to set off across the grass to warn his father of the potential intruder that an old mouse – the source of the scent – appeared from under the hedgerow. The mouse spotted Lavendel [Nesbit’s father] and hobbled toward him. Nesbit immediately recognized the visitor, and became unnerved. No! Not him!, he thought, sitting back and anxiously rubbing his snout. He began to shake with apprehension. This is bad – very, very bad!
The visitor, Field Marshal Osterglocke, was no ordinary mouse. He was commander of the entire Thistle Guard, the army of mice tasked with keeping order among the dozens of colonies scattered throughout the massive garden.” (pgs. 4-5)
Winter is coming, and the colonies need all the Essen, the food they have foraged during the summer and fall, to survive. They do not want to pay it in taxes to the palace. Worse, it is expected that the forest mice under Emperor Wolfsmilch, with a Forest Army of 100,000 mice, will invade to steal their Essen. The König does not want just a tax; he wants all the Essen removed to the palace “for safekeeping”, and Osterglocke wants Sommer for the Thistle Guard. When Nesbit protests both, Osterglocke exiles him to the Forest of Lost Life, the furthest colony in the palace gardens – a death sentence — but then appears to relent and cancel his order.
“Sommer watched as the three troublemakers scurried away. He then approached his father, who was clearly disheartened.
‘Why did he suddenly change his mind about Nesbit?’ he asked.
Lavendel thought about it as he stared at the spot where Osterglocke had left the meadow.
‘I’m not sure he did,’ he replied.” (pgs. 16-17)
The Kingdom of the Sun and Moon is a fast-moving adventure full of action, palace intrigue, wild predators, the König’s betrayal, hairbreadth escapes, cartloads of cats, revolution, an unexpected friend, and murine religion. Press shows an impressive vocabulary, including simplistic German. When Nesbit appears to control a predator, he becomes known as the Hexenmeister. The actual size and physique of the mice plays a large part.
“Nesbit knew that if he hesitated, he was a dead mouse. He clambered higher along the slippery bark, not looking down until he reached the top of the main trunk, where the tree split into two large boughs. Acker and Zimbel [Osterglocke’s henchmice] would be on him in no time. He gazed up, into the wind-whipped canopy. Branches smacked loudly against one another and dislodged leaves upward into a swirling vortex. Nesbit closed his eyes in an effort to regain his equilibrium and used his whiskers to process the chaos in the air, but nothing helped. He was losing all sense of up and down. He gripped the edges of the bark as firmly as he could with his claws, but still he feared being blown away at any moment.” (p. 25)
The story splits into two parts: Sommer’s adventures (pages 37 to 134) within the palace (he quickly becomes a commander of the Palace Guard), and Nesbit’s adventures (pages 137 to 188) in the garden. It seems that Emperor Wolfsmilch of the forest mice has agreed to call off his invasion if the Sacred Goldessen of the Sun and Moon (the palace’s best food) is delivered to him; so the König assigns endless squads of the Palace Guard on suicide missions to find the Sacred Goldessen (nobody knows what it is; they hope to find it by its “best scent”) in the Royal Kitchen and bring it back, despite the “cartloads of cats” within the kitchen for rodent control.
“Meir thought for a moment before deciding to endorse Edgemoor’s plan. ‘I never imagined I’d hear anyone say that too many cats was an advantage, but your plan seems the best chance we’ve got,’ he conceded. ‘I say we try it. But it’s Sommer’s decision.’
‘Yes, let’s do it,’ said Sommer. ‘Sergeant, you know the ins and outs better than anyone. Can you help us find some other ways into the kitchen?’
‘I’ll do my best, but this is the only way I know for sure,’ Taubnessel said.
‘If we search hard enough, I know we’ll find more,’ Sommer reassured him. Now fully in command, he turned to the others. ‘Once we’re all in and we’ve found our hiding places, we’ll need to move higher, away from the cats. With a good vantage, maybe we’ll be able to spot the Sacred Goldessen, if we haven’t already picked up the scent by then. I don’t know what it actually looks or smells like, but it will be unique.’” (p. 110)
Nesbit’s adventures in the palace gardens are in places named by the mice the Fountain of Certain Death (a fountain with steep slippery sides; any mouse that falls in can’t get out and drowns), the Dying Land (an open area exposed to eagles, hawks, owls, foxes, badgers, weasels, snakes, and other wild predators), the Forest of Lost Life, and so on. Nesbit quickly learns that his escapes have made him the rallying point for every garden mouse who has become opposed to the König’s rule.
“‘We’re ready to follow your every command. And there are hundreds more like us all over the garden who are sick and tired of the König taking all our Essen and letting us starve when the freeze comes. You’ve started the uprising, now tell us what to do.’” (p. 142)
The story returns to the palace on page 191, and Sommer and Nesbit are together for the final hundred pages. The very end of The Kingdom of the Sun and Moon (cover painting of Schönbrunn Palace by Bernardo Bellotto; cover elements manipulated by RD Studio) shows too clearly that Press has read Watership Down, but it is an admirably original story otherwise. “Teen Fiction” in this case means that it is an All Ages book that Furry fans will definitely enjoy.
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