The Beggar King

REsource links, June 2013 (Vol 18, #5)
The Beggar King is the first hook in a planned trilogy and collection of short stories by Michelle Barker. Barker has published widely in journals, magazines, newspapers, and literary reviews, both in short fiction and non-fiction, and also poetry. This book placed second in the Laine Cunningham Prize for best first chapter.

Fifteen year old Jordan Elliot lives in the Holy City of Cir. On his fifteenth birthday, which is also the Feast Day of the Great Light, Landguards from neighbouring country Brin invade the City and take all residents of the cas¬tle prisoner, including Jordan's mother and the High Priestess Arrabel. Most of the Cirrian practices and customs are outlawed, and the Brinnians openly flout them, eating the sacred deer from the forest and convincing Cirrians to adopt Brinnian ways of life. Jordan wants to join the underground loyalist movement and help free his mother, but his father won't let him because he’s too young. On his sixteenth birthday, Jordan goes to the holy tree to mark the Feast Day, and speaks one of the forbidden prayers. As the guards are approaching and he is almost caught, he hears a voice “the world is merely wallpaper. Hide behind it. Here is your gift. Take it, and save yourself.” Jordan's gift of magic reveals itself at a most opportune time. The Beggar King has chosen Jordan to free the undermagic from where it has been locked in the castle for thousands upon thousands of years. Jordan struggles with the choice between good and evil, torn by his need to save his mother's life and his want to be a good man.

This fantasy novel is full of unique aspects -one can only leave or enter the Holy City via twelve magical bridges that will only let some¬one across if they match that state of mind, like the Undetermined Walkway. It may take readers a while to get immersed in this fantasy world, with undercats and underrats running around on two legs, wearing clothes, and speaking, but the story is fast-paced and urges readers to turn the page, to find out what choices Jordan and the other characters will make in this battle between the Great Light and the undermagic. This is an engaging fantasy story, with an end¬ing that will leave you wondering when the sequel will be published so you can find out what happens next in the Holy City of Cir. — Jaclyn McLean

Thematic Links: Fantasy; Magic; Good and Evil

CM Magazine, Volume XIX Number 37. . . .May 24, 2013

The Beggar King, a young adult fantasy novel, tells the story of Jordan Elliott, the main character and a youth living in the city of Cir, a pleasant place of peace and white magic. On his fifteen birthday, Jordan finds his world beginning to change. A neighbouring country, Brinn, brings about a coup that overthrows their existing way of life. Several important people disappear, including his mother, a baker in the palace kitchen. Jordan is supposed to choose an occupation when he reaches sixteen, but as things grow more dangerous, Jordan decides to make a display of defiance against the oppressors. Jordan’s offense is punishable by hanging, and he flees. One of Jordan’s unusual acquaintances is Sarmillion, an older, sometimes amusing scribe, and a character who faces personal conflicts in doing what is right in their situation.

The Cirrans have a legend of a Beggar King, something like a mythical bogeyman, who searches for the dark magic that has been safely locked away for centuries. The story says that, if the Beggar King succeeds in his search, he will unleash this destructive curse upon their world. Jordan’s girlfriend, Ophira, apprenticed to the Seven Seers of Cir, now works within the occupied palace as a seer for the new emperor.

To escape hanging, and take action against the Brinnians, Jordan accepts a gift from the Beggar King that allows him to disappear at will. Of course, such an unpredictable and addictive gift comes with strings, and in his effort to free his people, Jordan places everyone, including Ophira and his mother, in the grave danger of the return of the Beggar King.

Well written, The Beggar King holds the reader’s interest. With some odd and amusing characters, the author takes care to build a well-drawn world and a culture that is quite different from ours. At 269 pages, including a page of acknowledgments, plus a page with a brief author bio, the tale is divided into 30 chapters. With magic, political intrigue, good and bad choices, and well-drawn characters, The Beggar King would appeal to lovers of fantasy and adventure.

Highly Recommended.

Review by Ronald Hore.

***½ /4

Ronald Hore, a member of several writing groups, writes medieval-style fantasy and fantasy detective stories in Winnipeg, MB.