picked up Westmark because I wanted to see what else Lloyd Alexander had written besides his marvelous Chronicles of Prydian series (which I still intend to go back and reread someday, all five books still sit on my
bookshelves after all these years.) Westmark is a rather standard medieval fantasy, though the plot is straightforward and somewhat predictable, the highlight of the story are the characters that Alexander creates.
The hero of Westmark is young Theo. Theo works hard as an apprentice for the kindly printer Anton. Theo learns to read and write and run the press, which Anton cares about more than anything. One evening a dwarf named Musket appears at the
print shop while Anton is out. Musket needs a big order of pamphlets describing the wonders of Las Bombas printed up. Normally, the authorities must approve any printed material, but it is late and the official office is closed and the dwarf will pay well to get the pamphlets
by tomorrow. Can Theo fulfill Musket's request? The print shop is hurting for funds. The prime minister, Cabbarus, has really cracked down upon printers in an effort to save the citizens of Westmark from false and misleading information. Theo makes the decision to accept the job,
he can get the official stamp tomorrow morning and meanwhile work all night to get the print running. When Anton returns to the shop, Theo explains the big order and the profit that they shall make - happiness is within their grasp!
Of course, things go tragically awry. The soldiers of Cabbarus enter the shop and demand to see Anton's seal of approval for the print job. No license exists - the soldiers destroy Anton's press. Violence ensues, and Anton is gunned down while
Theo is chased out into the streets. Now the boy finds himself alone and a wanted criminal.
Theo escapes the authorities and falls in with the dwarf Musket and Las Bombas - a conman who bamboozles citizens into parting with their precious coins. Eventually, a beggar girl named Mickle falls in with this troop of shysters. Theo is morally torn by tricking people out of their
money, but Bombas assures him that it is all entertainment; the patrons viewing the act know it is all just a show.
Meanwhile, prime minister Cabbarus is plotting how he can seize the throne from King Augustine. The King has never been the same since the princess vanished years before. The princess was his only heir, and with her gone, Augustine is pining himself to death.
Westmark is a quick read. It is the first book in a trilogy. There are issues raised in the first novel that are not resolved by the book's ending - specifically, what are the schemes of the enigmatic, charismatic character named Florian. Florian wishes to overthrown the monarchy and set up a government of men.
Cabbarus, under the guise of fulfilling the King's wishes, has been mistreating the citizens of Westmark. Florian's message finds fertile ground amongst the oppressed people of the kingdom. The second book, Kestrel presumably brings these plot points to the fore.
This is a fast read, just 184 pages, and interesting enough that I hope to read Kestrel some day. Theo and Mickle are a good-hearted pair, so more of their adventures would be fun to read.