This is the second book in the Tales of Fontania, with The Travelling Restaurant: Jasper’s Voyage in Three Parts, being the first. The Queen and the Nobody Boy continues with the irreverent humour of The Travelling Restaurant, and expands our knowledge of Fontania into Um’Binnia, an underground city threatening war against Fontania. The greedy and awful Emporer Prowdd’on, is trying to capture the Golden Dragon-Eagle, who is necessary to the passing on of magic to young Queen Sibilla, 12 years old and not quite magical yet.
This story is Hodie’s story. Hodie is the ‘nobody boy’ who has no parents and is an unpaid odd-job boy at the palace. He becomes disgruntled with life at the palace, not surprisingly, and makes the decision to move on:
‘Hodie’s eyes turned watery. He was utterly sick of the Grand Palace and all its gossip. “Oo, babies not sleeping safe? We need stronger magic.” “Oo, Fontania needs a royal family that pays more attention to its magical abilities.” “Oo, what can the king be doing in his workshop? I hope it’s magical experiments.”
Magic! he scoffed to himself. How could magic exist in a world where a boy’s father was here one day but gone the next without a word? How could it exist in a world where a boy didn’t know a thing about his mother? Well, he’d learned to live without parents, and he didn’t need the Grand Palace either – especially if the palace didn’t need him. It was high time he left here. He would go south.’
Only, as he is leaving, he hears footsteps behind him. ‘Hodie didn’t want company and strode faster. The boy caught up, puffing. “Boy!” said the boy. “I knew I’d catch you!” Hodie’s mouth dropped open. It was the Queen.”
Sibilla is fed-up with everybody watching and waiting for her magic to appear, and has decided she will leave with Hodie, whether he likes it or not. Along with Murgott, the pirate chef from the Travelling Restaurant, who has become Corporal Murgott in this book, Hodie and Sibilla travel to Um’Binnia, overcoming danger along the way, and discovering new strengths. Sibilla is also forced to consider a few home truths about how her subjects view royalty.
‘Sibilla kept both hands on her cap. “How would democ-ra-what improve the Emporer?”
Hodie put his hands over his eyes. Any moment she would give herself away. They’d all be in trouble.
“Democracy,” muttered the ogre, “is even better than having lazy King and little girl Queen.”
Murgott drew in a sharp breath and glanced at Sibilla. The ogre continued. “Democracy is when people spend time arguing about what is best, not just say Hoorah for Emporer to his face and heaven-save-us-all-especially-ogres behind his back.”‘
The story is told with a very present authorial voice – almost a ‘story telling’, with authorial asides such as,
‘Hodie also heard that the King and Queen’s mother, Lady Helen, actually said the Royal Swear Word. (It’s in very tiny letters at the end of the book. Nobody must see you look at it.)’
For my own part, I wonder if the tongue-in-cheek humour throughout detracts from the wonderful fantasy and fantastical inventions and settings in the book. The reason that fantasy worlds can work is because they become utterly believable, in a suspend-disbelief kind of way. The author’s presence in the story reminds you that she is making it all up, and the irreverent tone undermines her world a little. This is different to the asides, for example, of Bartimaeus in the Jonathon Stroud series, where the teller of the story is a character from the story, and therefore his irreverence is entirely convincing. But, this is just a pondering…
This book is great fun, and appropriate for children from about 8 years and up. While it is not necessary to have read ‘The Travelling Restaurant’ to enjoy this story, it does help you to understand the characters of Jasper, Sibilla and Murgott a little more.
Nominated for the Junior Fiction Section of this year’s NZ Post Children’s book awards.