Reviews for Kingdom of Little Wounds

Booklist Reviews 2013 November #1
Skyggehavn, a fictional sixteenth-century kingdom, is a desperate place plagued by ­madness, disease, and mercury poisoning. Political intrigue, murder, and manipulation abound as Cokal wends the troubling tale of Ava, an aspiring royal seamstress, and Midi, a mute foreign nursemaid, who together orchestrate a daring gambit to ensure both the continued power of the reigning queen and the downfall of the cruel man who sadistically took advantage of them both. The author seamlessly interweaves crooked fairy tales throughout her dark story, which only serves to underscore the grim realities of the women who suffer terrible violence at the hands of brutal men. The graphic depictions of sex and rape make this a difficult read--and reserve it for the most mature readers--though Cokal gives a powerful and poignant voice to both Ava and Midi, whose indignation simmers until they enact a gruesome form of revenge. Despite the challenging content, the book's lyrical writing, enthralling characters, and compelling plot will give older readers lots to ponder. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2014 Spring
In this taut, fraught (and not for the squeamish) story of court intrigue in a fictional 1570s Scandinavian city, three women brought together by bad events realize that men are at best self-interested "users of women." Diseases (especially STDs), poisons, and cruelty abound; Cokal is clearly fascinated by Renaissance medical remedies. Vivid writing and a coldly intelligent narrative voice suit the clever plot and fiercely drawn cast.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 September #2
In the royal Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn, in 1572, two women who work in the palace find themselves involved with poisons, intrigue, violence and history. Many voices weave together to form the narrative. Ava Bingen, a seamstress whose fortune changes when she mistakenly pricks the queen with a needle, narrates many chapters. Midi Sorte, the "Negresse" taken aboard a slave ship from an unnamed part of Africa and now a royal nursemaid, tells her story in a stylized, lyrical voice ("I do not like to hold a pen....It feel a silly thing to me, to tell a story through the fingers"). A third-person omniscient narrator adds more perspectives, among them the pained, ineffective king, Christian V, who loves a ruthless male adviser, and Christian's petulant, bloodthirsty daughter, Beatte. Interspersed throughout are short fairy tales with dark twists--a princess rewarded for her craftiness when she steals from a girl who eats a poisoned apple, for instance. The story never disguises the grotesque and public nature of bodies or the violence of the court. Readers frequently see Christian talking to his beloved Nicholas while seated at his toilet stool or doctors meticulously examining royal women's genitals. Both Ava and Midi experience rape at the hands of a powerful man, and Midi in particular is routinely dehumanized, lending the story a sad ring of authenticity. Though the publisher suggests a 16-plus audience, it is not beyond sophisticated younger teens. Sometimes bleak, but complex and carefully crafted--mesmerizing. (Historical fiction. 14 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 September #4

"I have always loved a fairy tale." So says Ava Bingen, a young seamstress in the palace of the fictional Scandinavian city of Skyggehaven. Dark and bloody fairy tales inform this dense, 16th-century narrative, richly layered with multiple viewpoints: Ava, the mad Queen Isabel, the dangerously weak King Christian, the diabolically ambitious Lord Nicolas, and the mute, literate African nursery-slave, Midi Sorte. In her first novel for young adults, adult author Cokal (Mirabilis; Breath and Bones) explores the landscape of the female body as it has been for so long: property of parents or husband, subject to the needs of family and state. During a time of deadly court intrigue and disturbing portents--a new star in the sky, a muddy vortex in the earth--Ava, Midi, and Isabel negotiate their individual paths of survival until their fates are woven together, giving them a chance to save the kingdom and each other. Though the novel's frank and upsetting depictions of rape, child-marriage, miscarriage, and syphilis mark this title for mature readers, its brutality, eloquence, and scope are a breathtaking combination. Ages 16-up. (Oct.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2013 December

Gr 10 Up--After a plague fell upon the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn in 1561, Ava and her father were the sole survivors of their family. Eleven years later, Ava, who has been taught to sew, is sent to the royal palace as a seamstress to the queen. Work there is coveted, but it is also beset with danger as there are no limits to the cruelty of the powerful. One prick from a needle into the flesh of agitated Queen Isabel sends Ava to the dungeon until she is retrieved by the villainous Count Nicolas. The count sexually abuses her and then sends her to work in the nursery as his spy, where she meets Midi Sorte. After being kidnapped, chained, sexually brutalized, and brought north by ship, Midi, a "Negresse," was presented as a gift to the court, naked, coated in sugar, and with a sugared plum in her mouth. Desperate to avoid continued mistreatment, the girls claw for survival in a court full of intrigue, disease, and sorrow. Ava and Midi evoke readers' sympathy as believable protagonists in a cast of mad characters. Cokal eloquently presents a grisly and visceral world that she aptly refers to as a "syphilitic fairy tale." There is no glossing over all manner of sexual abuse, miscarriages, death, and so on. After a gripping stroll through 550 pages, readers are left with a satisfying ending of justice and hope for Ava and Midi. This novel is distinctive in thought and elocution, but it is also dense and full of adult content. It could have a limited audience among teens.--Mindy Whipple, West Jordan Library, UT

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VOYA Reviews 2013 December
More historical fiction than fantasy, this novel tells the story of the devastating consequences of the introduction of syphilis among Europe's aristocracy. Framing her story with dark fairy tales whose plots mirror the main narrative, Cokal creates a mystical, shadowy setting full of intrigue and hidden passions. The story takes place in the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn, where two peripheral members of the court--the young seamstress, Ava Bingen, and the mute nursemaid, Midi Sorte--witness the queen's descent into madness and the unusual illness affecting the remaining royal family. Although the two women dislike each other, they find themselves caught up in a dark plot to gain control of the throne The novel starts off slowly, but the momentum picks up about two-thirds of the way through. Cokal does not shy away from the stark reality of Renaissance life, especially regarding medical practices or the total lack of privacy that royal figures experienced. Less experienced readers may struggle with the complex narrative which shifts between various viewpoints. The dense writing with its layers of symbolism and meaning, as well as the explicit content and subject matter, will be best appreciated by mature readers.--Heather Christensen 4Q 3P S Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.