The Kestrel, By Lloyd Alexander

The Kestrel

Book two in the Westmark trilogy; the plot continues. Only there wasn’t a plot to start out with, just a bunch of character studies, so, on with the character studies! To shake things up a little, some of the village idiots we met earlier are given main character status, and any main characters who stay in the plot have to develop new personalities to keep things coherent. So… I’m not sure where any of this is quite entirely related to the last book, except in the most bare boned of extenuating circumstances.

Florian: Master thief/traitor/conspirator/person-who-is-supposed-to-be-a-very-clever-and wise-hippie-den-father-persona. He wants to restore “democracy” (which means mob rule) to the kingdom of Westmark, Karl Marx style; everybody gets an equal share of everything, except the monarchy, who will be stripped of everything. Along with Cabbarus, and the nobility (whose job, in this book, is to stand around telling their princess she’s wrong while proving she is right), the monarchy is basically going to be massacred if Florian gets his way. The thing is, the country just got peace with the return of the princess in book one, so Florian’s grand-standing and brutal, near-terroristic tactics are only justified once the country is invaded by foreign troops.

Theo: Still an orphan by his own volition (having turned down a job, a mentor, a place at court, and a potential girl, in that order, because gutter scum is a such a good thing to be), he wants Florian’s approval, thus spends most of this intermediary plot line trying to win his favor by being more brutal in his tactics than the other guerrilla fighters (who claim to be fighting for the freedom of their country from the invaders, but they abuse the country-folk just as badly or worse, so their definition of free is up for debate).

The Monkey: Florian’s only criminal with experience in the underworld prior to working for Florian. This somehow makes him a gritty character, though his main occupation is to save food from being burned down with the villages at random intervals and share it with his friends. Executed after he escapes capture by the enemy, since someone so clever, brave, and experienced would only be able to escape capture by changing sides. Theo is of said one friends, and the other…

Justin: is a background village idiot from book one. Florian likes him. Thus, he is given command of the guerrilla fighters in various places, and is unquestioned in his leadership skills. His main intellectual accomplishment is justifying shooting Monkey in the back. Being the intelligent persona that Theo is, he idolizes Justin and tries to save his life at peril of their entire mission. Justin continues to hate Theo because he hasn’t been with Florian long enough (when that excuse runs out, he starts hating Theo because, in aforementioned life-saving effort, Justin gets a scar on his face. Sheesh, most movie stars sit still for hours every day to get their facial scars to look as ‘cool’ as his sounds).

Mickle: She bests the generals at battle plans, her mother at ruling, the enemy at negotiating, spies at spying, and a prince at fighting. Just another day in the life of an ordinary princess. Oh, and she’s no longer the very proud, I-can-do-this person, no; now she is the sweetly rebellious daughter whose only desire is for the good of everyone else, so that’s why she tells everybody what to do in this “charming” way that makes them agree with her almost immediately. Mickle also gets several sub-plot characters involved, including a pair of siblings who make Theo look smart, the writer of a humor column, the ever-whining doctor, the queen (who’s shed the whining, and is now the resident worrywart), and a foreign prince who has been raised his entire life by lying, pompous, weak, evil, gluttonous people yet is honest, humble, strong willed, good, and handsomely trim. Whew. The only thing she isn’t great at? Choosing a suitor (the foreign chap is clearly the most intelligent and honorable guy in the running, despite his pitiful fighting skills). Otherwise, she gets her way the entire book.

Overall: Not worth reading. Why did I keep reading onto the second book of an author who is clearly not my type? I actually read this one first, for one thing. Also, I had forgotten my journal and there were still four hours left in the car when I finished “The Kestrel”. Finally, in the spirit of fairness, I assumed that my reasons for disliking this book could have to do with not understanding the background plot (never assume). The style is gripping, but in an obvious fish-hook sense, not engrossing. For a fantasy-adventure with character studies AND a plot, read “The Three Musketeers” and its sequels.


9 thoughts on “The Kestrel, By Lloyd Alexander

  1. Pingback: Conservative Book Talk » Westmark, by Lloyd Alexander

  2. There is a plot, but you have to look hard to find it, which is something I found disconsorting in all the books (thus the character studies).

    Act One: introduce everyone again and reaffirm that they are, by and large, idiots.

    Act Two: Westmark is invaded by a foreign army. This is the part where Florian and his band feel more legitiamtized, Theo’s character shows up alot, Monkey dies, the sub-plot-people show up and waste print space, Mickle proves she can be perfect and an idiot at the same time, etc.

    Act Three: Cue the wonderful prince’s enterance and exit. Side characters all end up happier and with more money; main characters retreat into thier respective villages and/or holes, claiming lots of big changes but still acting exactly the same as at the beginning of the book. Bad guys leave because Mickle asks them to, proving that Westmark’s high proportion of idiots is quite normal in this fantasy universe.

  3. P.S. The title is supposed to represent Theo’s character study; he “becomes” a horrible murderer and famous for his killings under Florian (“Kestrel” is a kind of hunting bird in this world). The deal is, Florian has admitted all along that “the people don’t understand me, and thus may be called upon to give thier lives, so that they’ll agree with me that the monarchy, Cabarus, and the nobility must give their lives.” And, having read book one, I can say that Theo’s character STARTS by breaking the law in the first chapter. He still falls for everything people say, and and still claims to be having mental reservations about what they (but not he) are doing. Sooo… I don’t see the plot point behind the title, either.

  4. Hehehe….

    Thanks. That analysis might have been one of the more amusing things I have read/heard all day. Many thanks.

    Sounds like an utterly mind numbing story. I think I’ll pass; unless I’m feeling cynical that is….

  5. It was very mind-numbing, but I kept thinking about how funny it would sound in summarized form (and thereby make a good reveiw). 🙂 Your comment is exactly why I finished the book. Idiocy is hialrious once you boil it down.

  6. If it doesn’t make you sob first….

    There’s a few idiotic political situations right about now that could boil down to hilarious if they weren’t so serious….

    Fortunately, I know the end of the story. Our God reigns and that makes everything better.

  7. Nice summary! I am not planning on reading the book. However, I found the review and subsequent comments to be very entertaining! It seems to me that if any book deserves scathing criticism for ineptitude in characters and plot, this is it!

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