Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools

Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools

Philip Caveney
Illustrator:  Julek Heller 
Fiction  Series
For ages 9 to 12
Random House UK, 2008   ISBN: 978-1862302518

Sebastian Darke is leaving home very reluctantly. He would much rather stay with his mother in the town he has always known, but since his father's death, times have been hard and Sebastian needs to go out into the world to earn a living. Sebastian does not have a great number of skills, but he was taught, by his late father, how to be a fool, a jester. Unfortunately Sebastian does not have the spark that his father had, and all too often his jokes and quips fall flat.

And so Sebastian sets out from home traveling in a caravan that is being pulled my Max, a buffalope who has been in the Darke family for years. Unlike most buffalopes, Max speaks very well and he is not exactly delighted by the prospect of having to cross a large dry plain that is infested with lupes and brigands. Sebastian is hoping that he will be able to find a position in the court of King Septimus in the city of Keladon.

One night a traveler walks out of the dark and asks if he might share Sebastian's fire. Cornelius is a very small but incredibly strong and savvy man. He too is going to Keladon, where he hopes to get a position in the king's special bodyguard unit. The two decide to travel together.

They don't get far before they come across a line of wagons that is being attacked by brigands. Cornelius and Sebastian dash to the rescue, and though they are not able to save the soldiers who are trying to fight off the brigands, they are able to save the precious passenger the soldiers were trying to guard. The passenger is a Princess Kerin, niece of King Septimus.

It is decided that the princess had better travel with Cornelius and Sebastian. At first she is very standoffish, but over time the princess and Sebastian get quite close and a meaningful friendship springs up between the jester, the soldier, the princess, and Max.

By the time they reach Keladon, the princess is determined to do all she can to help her new friends. She asks her uncle to give Sebastian and Cornelius jobs, and to make sure that Max is well care for. Everything seems to be going so well at first, but unfortunately for Sebastian and his friends, King Septimus is not what he seems.

In this delightful first book in a new series, Philip Caveney has created a colorful and fascinating collection of characters. Readers will quickly get fond of Max, who complains a great deal but who is loyal and brave all the same. Sebastian, the jester who is not funny, is enormously endearing, and Cornelius balances the trio out being solid, dependable, and unstoppable. It is interesting too to see how the princess changes over time; how she evolves from being a selfish self-centered creature to being a young man who is meant to be a queen.

Wonderfully written with plenty of humor, this is a highly entertaining title for intermediate readers.