The King's Arrow

by Michael Cadnum


Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The King's Arrow by Michael Cadnum Eighteen-year-old Simon in The King's Arrow is the son of an English mother and a Norman nobleman who died when Simon was young. The English resent their Norman king, William II, known as "Rufus" for his red hair. The Norman ruling classes are suspicious of the English, constantly fearing rebellion. Neither group completely accepts Simon. So when he learns he might be invited to join the Norman nobleman Walter Tirel on a deer hunt with the king, he feels thrilled and nervous.

As the foreward mentions, Walter Tirel's arrow killed the king during a fateful hunt on August 2, 1100. Simon's story offers enough uncertainty, though, to keep readers in suspense. The killing of a poacher at the beginning of the novel shows how high the stakes are. "His death was legal, Simon knew. Poaching the king's game was a capital crime . . ."

Readers who like horses will especially enjoy scenes in which Simon struggles with a bad-tempered stallion or gallops full-out on a borrowed mare. Those curious about the customs in Norman England may appreciate the frequent, brief explanations. "A hunting varlet would be expected to act as the game servant--to carry the quiver, hand out the arrows as needed, and have an eye for the woods and its creatures." English "is the language of hill and river, but not the language of government." The many explanations do slow things down, though, so readers who look, above all, for an exciting story may grow impatient with them. (2008; 208 pages; recommended for ages 12 and up)

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Other novels about boys in medieval England:

The King's Swift Rider by Mollie Hunter (2000), about a sixteen-year-old boy who joins the army of Robert the Bruce as a courier and spy during Scotland's rebellion against England in the thirteenth century. More info

Knight's Fee by Rosemary Sutcliff (1960), about an orphaned boy in Norman England who is given away as a wager in a game of chess after he angers the lord of Arundel Castle. More info

Man With a Sword by Henry Treece (1962), about Hereward, the Saxon who led the resistance to William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion. More info


Nonfiction about Norman England:

The Norman Conquest of England by Janice Hamilton (2007), a history of the Norman Conquest for younger readers. More info

William Rufus by Frank Barlow (1982), about King William II. More info

The Art of Medieval Hunting by John Cummins (1988), about hunting customs in medieval Europe generally. More info


Online:

William II Rufus at the English Monarchs website


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