Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: The Shadow of the Two Princes

Book 8 in the Shadows From the Past series: The Shadow of the Two Princes tackles one of the most intriguing historical mysteries – what happened to the two princes in the Tower of London? Jemima, Joe, and their friend Charlie could probably tell you, as could Max, their talking Tonkinese cat. The story begins on a sombre note that pervades the entire plot, as atmospheric and as creepy as the dank fog that lingers along the banks of the River Thames. Jemima wakes from a terrible dream, a cry for help from a boy, but was it a dream, or was it truly a cry for help that stretched across the chasm of time to reach her ears? And there’s mention of an Uncle Richard who might kill someone. But their Uncle Richard was the kindest, sweetest man imaginable, the perfect uncle, with whom the twins and Max had been living since their parents disappeared a few months earlier. When their Uncle Richard shows them a newspaper article with details of Richard Plantagenet, King Richard III, who was supposed to have murdered his two nephews in the Tower of London, Jemima is convinced there’s a link. The princes need their help, but will their magic book take them back to that date in time, to 1483, and will they be able to save the princes. After all, as they have learned before, you can’t change history…
Earliest surviving portrait of Richard III
Atmosphere, mystery, and intrigue abound in this tale as the twins, Max, and Charlie tumble headfirst into an adventure. Actually Max and Joe tumble headfirst into the Thames and have to be rescued from drowning by Doctor Argentine, who turns out to be the princes’ physician. An intriguing plot unfolds regarding the rescue of the two princes, with the help of everyone, including Max. Although not required to wear an elaborate disguise, as had happened to poor old Max in previous adventures, Max is pivotal by just being his handsome, special self. In fact he’s so handsome and special he even attracts the attention of Richard, then still the Duke of Gloucester. Well, they do say that even a cat may look at a king…
Max finds out more about a greater role the kids and their parents might play from Corbet, a raven (disguised as one, I should say), who introduces the detail of The Guardians of Time (first mentioned in Max’s Christmas Adventure). Some funny word play ensues which results in Max discovering he is not an “Animal of Time,” but sheds light on why the twins’ parents have disappeared!  The secondary characters are as memorable as the main players and are as important in their own way. Plenty of clues abound, with many nail-biting moments of tension and terror, and young time travellers, history buffs, and adventurers will love every word. Young readers will also appreciate the way the author conveys the fear, the fright experienced by the young princes. Although this is a dark moment in history, I found the young heroes – Joe, Jemima and Charlie – able to cope with and empathise with the events. They are also maturing as the series progresses.

I have always been intrigued by the story of the two princes, but found English history, the names and titles, and royal family relationships a bit confusing. Under the skilled pen of the author, all confusion is cleared up. Wendy Leighton-Porter manages to untangle complex historical threads and effortlessly weaves them into a very readable tale. The discovery of the historical Richard’s remains in 2012 also adds a touch of reality to the story, making the character seem more substantial. In addition, with new details arising about the ill-fated king, one wonders if he was all that bad. Even Jemima, who meets him, wonders about that. Was the maligned Richard as much of a villain as history has painted him? However, as always, author Wendy Leighton-Porter does not whitewash the facts of history, although in this case the fate of the princes remains something of a mystery. Even if history can’t be changed, might it be tweaked? In the end the kids learn that sometimes people don’t do as they are advised… The series is a wonderful gift for avid young readers and even more so for any reluctant young reader who has to be coaxed into the pages of a book.

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