“Steal the Sun”
The Broken King
by Philip Womack
Beware of what you wish for; Simon, the young hero of this spendidly engaging book, is being driven mad by his little sister, Anna. He suddenly remembers an old story that contains a “rhyme for getting rid of annoying siblings”. And the next thing he knows, Anna has vanished. This is guaranteed to strike a chord with any reader who has wished they could get rid of a tiresome brother or sister.
But of course he didn’t mean it – the thing about annoying siblings is that you can’t live without them either. Some dark force has whisked Anna away and Simon, in agonies of guilt, is force to acknowledge how much he loves her. What can he tell their parents? The family is going through a tough time – Dad has lost his job and moved them all from London to a rented cottage beside the sea.
Out walking, Simon has a dazzling vision of a golden woman who rides a golden deer with wings. “I know where your sister is,” she tells him, “in the world of the Broken King.” This lady is from the Golden Realm and she’s here to send Simon off on a magical quest – strewn with all the classic ingredients of a good quest, including prosaic objects with unexpected powers, evil knights who change into swans, and three mysteriously worded “tasks”: “Eat the shadow”, “Steal the sun” and “Break the air.” Not clichés, just your basic quest-pack.
What gives this story its zest is the charm of the two main characters – for, of course, the pack must contain a companion. Simon is joined by 13-year-old Flora, who wears smudged eyeliner and a tatty black leather jacket. Flora’s along for the ride because she made the same wish as Simon and accidentally got rid of her 18-year old brother. He’s into drugs and was tearing Flora’s life apart, but, like Simon, she is now admitting her deep love for the sibling she wished away. Consumed with guilt, the two children assume they are about to walk through the gates of hell.
The Broken King echoes with references to all kinds of mythologies, jumping effortlessly between Greek gods and the Brothers Grimm, with a classy dash of Victorian gothic. It is the first volumee of a trilogy, “The Darkening Path,” and Philip Womack tok as his inspiration Browning’s Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.
The first book suddenly stops with all ends dangling – which is frustrating. Novels that are part of a series should deliver more immediate satisfaction. But I’m only complaining because The Broken King is superbly written and totally gripping, and I want the next bit now.