If you take Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, place it in a post-modern world of donkey carts, add magical characters and unexplained mysteries, and, most importantly, put God at the center, you have Lee Duigon’s latest fantasy novel.
As with the first five books of his Bell Mountain series, The Palace can stand on its own for new readers, since Mr. Duigon deftly folds in background.
Evil once again masquerades as good, with usurpers to the throne of the kingdom of Obann offering to appease a neighboring tyrant named the Thunder King, whose face no one has seen.
One of the more fascinating aspects of human nature is when traitors attempt to rationalize treason. Mr. Duigon does a wonderful job baring their souls, illustrating the temptation to which we are all vulnerable – excusing our own sin.
In Obann, whispers of a high-tech past (is this post-nuclear war America?) echo throughout. As the book opens, the boy king Ryons is safely hidden away in Lintum Forest, protected by the warrior woodsman Helki and his men. An imposter, with Ryons’ blessing, occupies the throne in the capital city of Obann in order to foil a rumored plot by the Thunder King to add Obann to his growing empire.
The book builds toward a coronation ceremony manipulated by the Thunder King’s agents that could usher in a new dark age if not thwarted.
Amid all this, a child prophet speaks with divine authority, and strange creatures abound.
Obann has long been a theocracy, with temple priests and a “First Prester” wielding the kind of clout that popes had during medieval times. Hence, much of the intrigue centers on whether the Thunder King will get away with deposing the godly First Prester and install a counterfeit to go along with a fake king. Most alarming, the Thunder King has a weapon of unspeakable magnitude that could be unleashed at any time.
Kidnappings, battles, business deals and bouts of conscience keep the book moving, as does the interventions of the tiny, manlike creature Wytt, who aids God’s people against the evil-doers. Subplots abound, with original Bell Mountain series heroes Jack and Ellayne playing crucial roles leading to the coronation. In the first book, they risked their lives to climb Bell Mountain and ring the ancient bell of King Ozias, ushering in freedom and God’s blessings on their long-cursed land.
In The Palace, the Temple-bred assassin Martis, who had an epiphany just before he was about to kill the children on Bell Mountain, goes to heroic lengths to save their lives. Meanwhile, the legitimate First Prester is working to ensure that the newly discovered ancient scrolls of Ozias are copied and read everywhere in the kingdom.
It’s page-turning, earthy stuff, and I hope that Mr. Duigon, a Christian writer of considerable versatility, has more such books in him.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.