Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
As Retro Friday reviews go, this one has been a long time coming. I find I must start with a confession: I have never read a single, solitary book by Lloyd Alexander. Baffling, no? Looking back, I find it a HUGE oversight on the part of all those librarians I unabashedly pestered as a youngster. But I'm older now, and wanted to mend my ways and after some gentle prodding from Angie's direction, decided to have a go with Westmark as it was promised to include political intrigue and high adventure. Which was basically like dangling the proverbially carrot in front of a hungry horse.

On the run and facing imprisonment (or worse) Theo runs head-long into the finest charlatan ever to walk the streets of Westmark, Count Las Bombas and his dwarf companion, Musket. Although uncomfortable with their easy style of thievery, Theo is reluctant to part company after they are joined by the street urchin Mickle and eventually travel to the palace itself to face the Chief Minster Carrabas, who is determined to take control of Westmark for himself.

Fast-paced yet utterly subtle in it's detail Westmark was a revelation to me. I don't think I have ever read anything so tightly written with such deliberate adventure but still chock-full of complex discussions on right and wrong. By allowing the reader to follow Theo on his travels through Westmark, we are able to witness as he evolves and even get frustrated as his ideas of right and wrong are challenged by every single character he meets along the way. Yet due to stellar pacing and superb writing the book is never bogged down into a preachy mess.

Weighing in at just under 200 pages, Westmark packs quite a punch. Lloyd Alexander caught me over and over again with his seemingly innocent yet startling phrases like this opening line which reads:
Theo, by occupation, was a devil.
Which although being perfectly true, doesn't exactly mean what you think it might. You see, Theo is a printer's apprentice and those apprentices go by the title of a printer's devil. Makes perfect sense, no? But at the same time extremely memorable and a technique he uses to perfection throughout the entire series. I never got tired of these little flashes of creative genius. They never failed to catch my full attention with very little effort and usually with stunning results. Matched with the cleverness of how Alexander would then bring each detail to light was absolutely lovely. If this is what every Lloyd Alexander book reads like, you can be sure I'll be blazing through his oeuvre without delay.

side note: Just after I finished reading this standout trilogy, I discovered that the library at my alma mater has a exhibit in their special collections affectionately called "the box." It is comprised of many of Lloyd Alexander's manuscripts, original artwork and even several typewriters from his private office. Anybody want to pop over to the HBLL and check it out for me? Pretty please?

series reading order:
~ Westmark
~ The Kestrel
~ The Beggar Queen

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Book Loons review


Angiegirl said...

Ooh. You've finished the whole trilogy! I'm chuffed.

Particularly love your tightly written comment. Spot on. I adore this series and every single one of his books.

Lisa Lee said...

Ok I'm jazzed . Going to library tomorrow.

Brenda said...

I've never read this one, but I adore that cover. Maybe I'll have to put it on my list.