When the King Comes Home, by Caroline Stevermer
Book Review by Richard R. Horton
Caroline Stevermer has a new book out, When the King Comes Home. It’s apparently set in the same world as her fine earlier novel A College of Magics. When the King Comes Home is a decent book, though not terribly memorable.
The world it’s set in is much like roughly 16th Century Europe. It’s set in an imaginary country in Europe, and the other fantasy element is that magic works, though it isn’t wildly prevalent.
The narrator, Hail Rosamer, is a young apprentice to a successful artist. She lives in the capital city of their “country”, which is ruled by an old, dying King, and a capable “Prince-Bishop”. But people remember the days of Good King Julian, two centuries before, with great affection. It is said “When the King Comes Home”, any number of miracles might happen.
Wilful Hail becomes obsessed with an artist of King Julian’s time, Gil Maspero, who among other things made a special medal for the King. Against her mistress’ wishes, Hail makes a copy of this medal, and by happenstance ends up one day encountering a man who looks just like the old King. Soon it is clear that sorcery is afoot: an evil witch in league with the rebellious lord of one of the provinces is trying to recall King Julian’s soul to a new body and bind the King to her will. Hail ends up imprisoned for a time, then trying to help track down the witch, then trying to help free the King.
It was fun to read, but I felt that not quite enough happened. It ends in an honest but rather muffled fashion: Stevermer worked hard to avoid an ending with any sort of heroic cliche. That’s a good thing, on the one hand, but perhaps it detracts from the book, too. Lest I seem too negative, I repeat that it’s a fun, engaging, read. Hail is a neat character, wholly an artist, headstrong, interesting, unobservant of anything she doesn’t care about. The other characters are well drawn, too, and largely good people too.