by S.K. Munt
When the Australian author, S.K. Munt, burst on to the literary scene in the spring of 2013 with her book, The Marked Ones, she ushered in a fresh take on mermaid stories for adults. Once considered to be the stuff of children’s stories and Young Adult paranormal romances, the mermaid story suddenly became more sophisticated and well … interesting. No undersea warriors in hand-to-hand combat with monsters. No running battles between mermen and humans. No kings and … OK, there is royalty involved but it would not be a fairy tale without some royalty, would it? Aside from the royals, most of the characters were relatively ordinary merfolk, trying to make a living, trying to protect the environment and trying to hide the fact that their normal lifespans were measured in centuries. Oh and there is one other thing; the ladies have the upper hand.
The Marked Ones was followed in succession by Three Rings and Heads or Tails and S.K. Munt gained a loyal following that spanned the globe. When the last word on the last page of the third novel was written, readers assumed that Ms. Munt had finished with her saga and the characters would now live happily ever after . . . or not. Fortunately for her fans, she had more stories waiting to be told and Urchin is one of those as well as her first foray into the Young Adult genre. While much of The Fairytail Saga’s pre-history was described or intimated in one way or another throughout the series, there were still plenty of questions that wanted answering.
Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned The Mourning Bride (1697) by William Congreve
Urchin starts at the very beginning of S.K.’s world and tells the tale of Anna L’Autienne, an 11th century peasant girl living in Perle Des Bois, a remote town in Brittany. Anna has not had an easy go of it. Her father is an alcoholic sea captain whose way of parenting is not to be emulated. She has 3 older brothers, one of them adopted, and three younger brothers – triplets. Anna is the lone female in her father’s house as her mother died in childbirth – perhaps escaped is the better word for it – and is as low in the family pecking order as can be. Aside from her duties as cook, maid and punching bag for her adopted brother, Anna is a practicing apothecary, dispensing herbal remedies to all and sundry. She has saved almost enough to buy a one-way passage to Italy and with a little more time she should have enough.
Unfortunately, time is not on her side. Her father arrives home from a twelve month voyage earlier than expected and though he makes a rough attempt at parenteral affection, nothing much has really changed … especially his thirst for ale. Though she is a peasant, Anna does have friends in high places – the son and daughter of the local baron – and it is the latter who sends the Prince du Sang her way in search of relief for his frequent migraines. As it so often happens in fairy tales, the Prince is instantly smitten – smitten and besotted – with Anna and wants to marry her. She harbours no such desire – having seen firsthand the woman’s lot in life – and indeed, has vowed never to marry. The Prince – on the cusp of turning 18 – sees things differently and his parents – ever eager to see to their son’s happiness – are inclined to accede to his wishes even if the Queen sees Anna as a gold-digging, social climbing guttersnipe. Anna’s less than adoring father connives to put his less than appreciated daughter in the best possible light. The king and queen are more interested in her fecundity and when her father reveals the propensity on both the paternal and maternal sides of Anna’s family to produce male children – lots and lots of males – she is looked at in a wholly different light. A deal is done and Anna is to become the future queen in in a few days’ time.
I wished I hadn’t had to take his name, but I allowed myself to take a little comfort from not being branded with my father’s name anymore. But why should I bear the name of the man who had taken responsibility for me at all?
And that is exactly what happens. Her final chance at escaping to Italy is thwarted, Anna quickly becomes Princess Anna L’Court and her handsome prince quickly claims what is his by right. Anna’s freedom, childhood and innocence are gone in less than a day. It should be mentioned that at this point in the story, her prince is really not a bad person but merely a weak and spoiled young man, rather used to getting what he wants and who is disappointed that his new wife does not instantly love him the way that he instantly loved her. Nonetheless, his blandishments continue and Princess Anna falls pregnant within the month … with twins … both of them girls. Within a year, the prince has ascended the throne and Anna has fallen pregnant once again … with a girl once again. The only positive thing that may be said for this point in time is that Anna has at long last fallen in love with her prince and they are happy together … at least for a while.
Let it never be said that the nobility loves to see someone from the bottom rungs climb to their level or even higher. Through no fault of her own, Anna has made enemies along the way; all the young ladies who wanted to have a go at the prince are now jealous young ladies and the principle that no good deed goes unpunished has entered from stage left. Her skills as a healer has led to charges of witchcraft and Princess Anna is hustled off to a remote island – without her daughters – to hide until the prince can collect the necessary evidence to disprove the charges. Although Anna’s seclusion is only intended to last a relatively few weeks, those weeks turn into months and her prince comes to visit less and less frequently. On his final visit – just before Anna is due to deliver – he attempts to drown her but Anna doesn’t drown. Something else happens.
Urchin, is told through a narrative written by Anna L’Court nearly seven centuries after the fact and buried on the same desolate island that she lived upon for the duration of her second pregnancy. Anna’s great grandchild, Ivyanne – Queen Ivyanne – has searched for this record of her great-grandmother’s beginnings in the hope of finding answers; answers to how things really began, answers to a question she must deal with in the future.
She wanted to swim, desperately-needed to feel the thump of her tail against the waves-but she had more important matters to deal with first; Silencing the only human man who knew the story.
It often falls within the reviewer’s province to advise the prospective reader as to whether they should or should not buy and read the subject of the review. It has fallen to this reviewer to do likewise but to also include a caveat. If your tastes in literature include mermaids, the middle ages, S.K. Munt’s Fairytail Saga, or wronged women on a rampage, then by all means read Urchin as soon as possible. If your literary tastes include a stonking good Young Adult paranormal romance, then this book is for you. If you are simply looking for a good read, then you should consider giving Urchin a go.
Urchin is suitable for older Young Adults, New Adults and above. Middle range and younger readers may find some of the imagery in this book to be disturbing.
As mentioned above, this reviewer’s advice comes with a caveat. Simply put, prospective readers should bear in mind that in reading Urchin, no heart will remain unmoved and that no soul will remain unstirred. Ms. Munt is an author of no mean talent and she has admirably exercised her gift of spinning stories once again. Those who follow ascendant authors will do well to take note of her as this is her fourth literary outing and S.K. has again delivered what most readers – Young Adult and older- look for in a story; A riveting and entertaining tale that both satisfies and yet leaves them wanting more. All good things must come to an end sooner or later and The Fairytail Saga is no different but things are not quite done with. The fourth installment, Stained Glass, is presently scheduled for release in April of 2014.
It is standard practice for reviewers to give some sort of rating for a particular book. The most common form is to award the book one to five stars or in the case of The Parsons’ Rant, one to five pipes. It is here that such rating systems fall short, for in the case of S.K. Munt’s Urchin, five stars are not enough and the author must content herself with what is available.
In the interest of full disclosure, the author provided an Advance Review Copy (ARC) in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Follow S.K. Munt on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/skmuntor on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7159848.S_K_Munt/blog
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