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The Kestrel    by Lloyd Alexander order for
by Lloyd Alexander
Order:  USA  Can
Firebird, 2002 (1982)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Kestrel is the second book in the Westmark trilogy. As it opens Mickle, recognized as Princess Augusta, is betrothed to Theo who is on a kind of sabbatical. He is travelling around the realm, rooting out many instances of abuse of power, which he documents in his journal, along with sketches of ordinary people. Then the villain Cabbarus plays his wicked hand from exile, and the country is soon in the throes of an invasion from Regia and uprisings reminiscent of the French revolution.

Theo is pulled into the fighting under the dangerously charismatic Justin, both to prove himself and to make amends for what he perceives was cowardice, when he froze in action before. Their guerilla warfare is effective, but when a friend is killed and enemy reprisals reach the level of atrocity, Theo loses himself in violence. He becomes the beserker resistance leader, the Kestrel. Meanwhile, Mickle has taken command of her own fleeing armies and is known as the Beggar Queen.

Mickle and Theo are great protagonists - the abused survivor rising to the demands of leadership, and the thoughtful artist having to face his own dark side. And we encounter other old friends in this episode - Count Las Bombas and Musket, Dr. Torrens and the journalist Keller, the water rats Sparrow and Weasel, and of course the revolutionary Florian. They all change for the better and worse in this episode, as they pass through the fires of war.

The back cover includes quotes from the author, which mention that his own wartime (WW II) experiences influenced the story, and indeed it raises many questions, just as relevant today, about the morality of different actions in wartime and in defence of a realm. Theo, damaged by what he has done, tells Mickle 'I've hated myself for so long, I'm sick with it. I don't recognize myself.' Though Theo seemed the stronger in the first volume of the trilogy, Mickle has the self confidence that he lacks in The Kestrel.

This episode ends with peace in the realm, but the romance between Theo and Mickle is still waiting for resolution, revolution still simmers, and Cabbarus is still out there, no doubt plotting further evildoing - leaving lots of scope for action in the final Westmark episode, The Beggar Queen.

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