eARC Review: The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer
In the ancient moors of Scotland, the king of Calidon lies on his deathbed, cursed by a ring that cannot be removed from his finger. When a mysterious fey stranger appears to save the king, he also carries a secret that could tear the royal family apart. The kingdom’s only hope will lie with two young men raised worlds apart. Aric is the beloved heir to the throne of Calidon; Albaric is clearly of noble origin yet strangely out of place.
Synopsis provided by Goodreads.
Out hunting one day with his son, a mysterious ring appears on the finger of the King of Calidon. Over the next month, his health fails and he nearly dies. A mysterious stranger in white appears and removes the ring from the king’s finger, saving his life. The youth asks the king if he recognizes him, but he does not.
Perplexed by the youth’s insistence on knowing his father, Aric discovers that the stranger’s name is Albaric, and he too, is the son of King Baldric. Confused by this revelation, a fantastic tale about the queen of the fey, the king of Calidon, and an enchanted ring is uncovered.
Learning that he has another son, the king spirals downward into a fog of shame and suspicion. It’s up to Aric and his oddling half-brother Albaric to bring the king back to his senses.
“What is a friend? Troth without end. A light in the eyes, A touch of the hand– I would follow you even To death’s cold strand.”I want to jump right in and say that I think this book has been (and will be) widely misunderstood. I’ve seen a lot of reviews already that are very misleading and don’t represent this book well at all. While it has been placed into the Young Adult fantasy genre, it doesn’t really fit in well with other current titles and trends. The Oddling Prince reads exactly like an old-time fairy tale, i.e. The Lily of Life: A Fairy Tale, and reflects little upon the mantras of the genre it has been categorized under. For these reasons, I would highly suggest going into this read with an open mind. There are some very valuable topics being explored, which could completely become overshadowed by preconceived notions. With that being said, I’m so glad that I picked up this book! If you are a fan of original fairy tales, this will be a read that you will want to give a shot at.
“My father says ‘White King’ is only a mistake for ‘Viking,’ making a fairy tale of how our ancestors in longboats came to Calidon.”Set in ancient Scotland, Calidon is the realm in which the plot is set. Only hints of the world are discussed, creating an atmosphere not as astounding as I’d hoped for. It doesn’t matter much, however, as the plot is driven by the interactions and relationships between the characters. Majority of the setting is at or surrounding Dun Caltor, the place where the royal family resides. Politics exist mainly between the station of King Baldaric and his competitors (almost exclusively Lord Brock Domberk.) Any form of religion is not discussed, as the fantastical overtake this area via the existence and presence of faeries and a faerie realm.
Pacing & Readability
The first half of this story is the main area that really pulls the reader in. While the second half is consistent, most of the content that makes this book so great is revealed earlier on. The pacing remains rather consistent, with a few lulls in plot movement and intrigue. Because it reads like a fairy tale, sometimes its length feels forced. It could have been shorter.
Point-Of-View & Characters
Before I say anything, there are three characters in this book with names that are very similar and can be the cause of some confusion. I’m not sure why these characters’ names are so similar, other than assuming it has something to do with passing down a family name. I personally didn’t have any issues with keeping these characters straight, but some might find it tricky.
“A prince I was, yes, but in looks no more than passable–no comelier or taller than most men–and in prowess, no better with sword or lance or horses or–or anything. I had quested nowhere, had wooed no true love, I was–I felt myself nothing compared to my father. I loved him.”Aric serves as the main character and protagonist in the story. The point-of-view is directed from his perspective. A 17-year-old prince and heir to the throne of Calidon, Aric doesn’t yearn for power. A rather unusual boy, Aric’s innocence and genuineness immediately make him likable to the reader. His likeability only grows when confronted with the revelation that he has a half and immortal brother. Instead of allowing jealousy to overtake him, he eagerly embraces Albaric after (and even before) hearing his tale of woe. Not only that, he holds nothing against his father no matter how he treats him. Aric’s character possesses qualities which are truly a breath of fresh air. Selflessness, humbleness, faithfulness, honesty, innocence, loyalty are the attributes that make him so appealing. With that, Aric goes through some very real, and difficult experiences as well.
“Once I regained my strength and got up out of the bed, it would be Father and Albaric again, Albaric and Father, and the heartache and constant fear. I did not want to die, but neither did I want to live.”The most refreshing part was how he maintained his character through tough trials. He doesn’t allow bitterness and resentment to take place in his heart, even when everyone around him was telling him otherwise. His character reminded me slightly of Job from the Bible and how he refused to listen to the bad suggestions from his friends and family.
“‘My father,’ I burst out, ‘when he set foot on the ground, his horse turned to air. When he took the ring off you, his fire went out. His light is gone. He cannot return whence he came. He has thrown in his lot with mortals now, and he will someday die, and he has made this sacrifice to save you.’”Albaric’s character was also very intriguing to me. When he first arrived on the scene, it was hard to tell his intentions. However, it is quickly revealed that this immortal has a soft heart. Actually, Albaric experiences some very difficult feelings such as abandonment, unacceptance, and even prejudice from others to the point of where he contemplates taking his own life. While King Baldaric completely denies that he is Albaric’s father, Aric comes alongside him and develops a beautiful kinship with his half-brother. Albaric is described as “otherworldy” in a sense that his beauty is too much for the world of men. While it is the truth, he doesn’t allow his appearance to dictate his character and brings a refreshing view on beauty in general. Albaric certainly faces difficult trials. Realizing that his father doesn’t even recognize him, and becomes suspicious of him breaks him apart. Later on, the stress of his situation and being stuck in the mortal world leads Albaric to give in to his hurting. He gives spiteful advice to Aric on how to react towards their father and their failing relationship. King Baldaric, the father of both Aric and Albaric, starts out as a loving and doting father and king. He clearly loves his son Aric, but his character is deeply challenged (understandably so) when he discovers that he has another son, Albaric, with the fairy queen and has no recollection of it ever happening. This discovery is the start of a chain of events which sends the once good king into a downward spiral.
“But a king must think like a king. An oddling comes and claims to be my son. What can I think but that he schemes to take the throne?”He becomes so bad that he even believes his once beloved son Aric wants to overthrow him and take his throne. Despite his beliefs, Aric works tirelessly to contradict his father’s beliefs. The metaphor of darkness and light are often used to depict this waging battle of Baldaric’s feelings and again, reinstill the “fairy tale” feel of the book. Queen Evalin, King Baldaric’s wife, and Aric’s mother serves as a realistic mediator. When chaos ensues, she often is the voice of reason. The main antagonist comes in the form of the ring but also shares the title with Lord Brock Domberk, (a vassal of King Baldaric’s), as well as King Baldaric himself. While the ring takes the center stage, it causes others to do things and become people they aren’t. The ring itself is an ancient thing and has the ability to enchant those who wear it. The ring, however, obeys no one and often has alternative repercussions when used for personal gain.
Major Themes⇒ Light vs. Darkness
“I saw the invisible drawing of swords between him and Albaric; I felt the tension in the close air of the bedchamber. Dark, it was too dark in there because of the shadow of death. Father wore black.”The theme of light vs. darkness is equivalent to good vs. evil. It is utilized regularly in context as well as metaphor. When Albaric first arrives, he’s riding a horse and they are both stark-white. As he turns out to be King Baldaric’s redeemer, it makes sense that he’s depicted in white. Darkness is equally referred to, indicating illness, death, and malice. ⇒ Kinship Kinship plays a massive role in this story. Mostly depicted by Aric and his half-brother Albaric, their relationship is one of pure love for kin. Despite the odd situation with their father, and how Albaric even came into being, Aric and Albaric immediately put the fact they are brothers at the forefront of the matter. While Aric accepts Albaric, Baldaric denies that Albaric is his son, which causes an obvious issue within the family’s dynamics. ⇒ Trust Mainly exhibited in Baldaric’s character, his lack of trust almost costs him his relationship with his son Aric. Knowing the truth of what happened to him in Elfland, Aric tries effortlessly to reassure his father of his intentions. Baldaric’s judgement becomes too clouded in his humiliation that he begins to lose trust in everyone dear to him, leading him to make some bad decisions later on. ⇒ Shame/Self-Doubt
“Yet his face reddened, and now I recognized what I saw there: shame, with which he struggled clumsily, unaccustomed to guilt, to error. Never in my memory had such self-doubt afflicted him before.”Another theme exemplified by Baldaric, and combated by Aric, shame and self-doubt are forces that heavily impact the events of this story. Baldaric, a king, was tricked by the elf queen into staying with her and having a child with her. Granted, he didn’t know what he was doing because he was enchanted, but deep down he never loved the elf queen, and loved only his wife. When he learned of these events when Albaric appeared, he becomes so distraught by the fact that he had been bested by the elf queen that it changes him drastically. It shows how impactful one’s perspective of themselves can be on so many lives outside of their own.
Overall FeelingsThings that I liked: ⇒ The different style in which this book was written (aka writing style). It is not the typical modern YA fantasy! ⇒ The themes discussed. ⇒ The way the fantastical was woven into the story. ⇒ The lessons to be learned. Things that I didn’t like: ⇒ The world building was lacking for me, as I’d hoped to see more historical influence of ancient Scotland and the people there. ⇒ The story overall felt somewhat drawn out and could have been shorter and have been just as effective. Overall, I loved this story. I think there is something here for everyone to take away. That’s what I love most about the fairy-tale style in which it is written–it allows the story to be told in a way that is perhaps, more tangible for the reader to grasp, yet allows for a few elements to not be entirely explained. It allows for the magical element that fairy-tales possess to remain aloof. This doesn’t affect my view of the book at all, but this quote from the author was included in the acknowledgments, and I thought it was worth sharing because it is so beautiful.
“Writing fiction has always, for me, been an alchemy of turning pain into poetry, ugliness into beauty. It has been a kind of redemption.”