Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

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Westmark is a flintlock, mid-18th century style young adult fantasy novel about a printing press printer’s assistant who ends up on the wrong side of a tyrant councilor’s law and falls in with a charlatan snake oil salesman and his dwarf assistant.

Theo, the printer boy, is roped into Las Bombas’ deceits and swindling despite his moral objections to it. Las Bombas and company soon pick up a street urchin named Mickle who is more than she appears to be. (No kidding?)

There is also a good court doctor waging a battle of will and influence with the corrupt councilor for the grief-stricken king’s soul, a bohemian circle of resistance fighters who are not only anti-tyrant but also anti-monarchy in general, and lots of sincere questioning of morality in regards to both violence and truth.

I loved Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain as a kid and am happy to find, as an adult, that he’s still a really good writer. Westmark is a very entertaining read, with a nice, spare but witty prose style, and convincing sparks of action.

The book is short and I read it fast but the characters still stood out and the twists worked. The setting itself is a tremendous plus, being a kind of alternate version of Europe circa late 18th century or so, with no real magic to speak of, but with guns.

There are a few trite elements, including the half-cliché evil councilor, interesting only in his distinct lack of outward mustache twirling and austerity, and a twist in the back half that I will not spoil (but your common sense might). However, these flaws are outweighed by the overall quality of storytelling.

There are two more books in the Westmark trilogy and I definitely want to read them soon. I expect to enjoy them, especially if they can delve more into the democracy vs. monarchy angle. I haven’t quite seen that before in a fantasy series.

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