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History is what we believe. History itself is a fairy tale.
"It is while I stitch the Queen's gown, on the night her eldest daughter is to die, that I first sense an uneasy power."
The Kingdom of Little Wounds is the young adult debut novel of Susann Cokal. It is, in a sentence, a fairy tale about syphilis. The story follows two women, Ava Bingen, a seamstess in the queen's household who is demoted after accidentally pricking the queen with a needle during an emergency gown repair, and Midi Sorte, a nursemaid from a faraway land (likely somewhere in Africa, though no one, least of all Midi knows) who never speaks due the mutilation of her tongue. The narrative is interspersed with chapters told from the point of view of several characters, as well as including several original fairytales throughout the text.Scandinavia, 1572. In the city of Skyggehavn the eldest daughter of King Christian V and Queen Isabel is about to be married to a Swedish duke. The marriage is not a popular one, politically because the Catholic kingdom is wary of uniting with Protestant Sweden, and personally because Princess Sophia is only twelve years old, sickly, and has only barely passed her menarche. The alliance is too valuable to lose, though, so the princess will be wed. However as she and her husband are about to consummate the marriage, Sophia mysteriously dies. The king, certain that someone must be to blame, begins looking for poisoners in his court. The queen, already not right in the head, begins to slip further over the edge. And all the while, the Morbus Lunediernus, the illness that plagues the royal children, makes them weaker and weaker.Everyone is frightened for the future and scrambling to preserve their place in it by whatever means they have. For some characters, this means just staying alive, or keeping those children alive. For the king and queen, it means producing more heirs. For Ava and Midi, it means a life of spying and sexual abuse.And everyone, regardless of who they are, or what their station, lives in fear of the continued spread of the Italian Fire.
The Kingdom of Little Wounds provides examples of:
Adult Fear: The king and queen watch their oldest, favorite daughter die in horrible pain on her wedding night. Sophia is only the first loss.
All Men Are Rapists: There are some aversions like Jacob Lille, but for the most part the men in this story force themselves on the women.
Anguished Declaration of Love: In actions rather than words. Christian finally kisses Nicolas, and he knows how bad it will be if they're caught.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Played with. Some are evil, like Nicolas, some are clueless of the harm they do, like the queen. But in essence, if you're common like Ava and Midi are, aristocrats can ruin your entire life on a whim and think nothing of it.
Arranged Marriage: Princess Sophia is married to a Swedish duke at the beginning of the book. She's barely twelve at the time, but they need the marriage desperately.
Baby Factory: Isabel's role at court. Notably right after Sophia dies, the king comes to her bed to create another child as though Sophia were just a part to replace and Isabel a mechanism to make that replacement.
Break the Haughty: Countess Elinor is accused of and arrested for poisoning the royal children, after ruining Midi's and Ava's lives.
Closet Key: Nicolas makes Christian realize some things about himself.
Confessional: Towards the end of the book, Ava breaks down and spills out everything he has done. Isabel remarks that she needs absolution, but Ava does not want to see a priest. So Isabel forgives Ava herself.
Convenient Miscarriage: Played with in the cases of Ava, Midi, and Isabel. Two of these women miscarry, though not for lack of trying on the part of the third one.
Darkest Africa: Midi's origins are given this treatment by people at court.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Nicolas looks like he's going to get everything he wants. He's set himself up as regent to the child queen Beatte, he's groomed her to both like him and think of herself as a queen, and then he's all set to marry her. She stabs him in the leg with a knife he gave her to protect her virtue, and the wound ultimately kills him.
Lie Back and Think of England: More common than not. Sex is often something the female characters need to endure, not enjoy. Sophia in particular does her best to knock herself out with wine before consummating her marriage.
Sanity Slippage: A consequence of syphilis. The queen has probably been losing her mind for years, and she only appears to get worse over the story.
Screaming Birth: Isabel screams to pretend she is in labor after she has already given birth. Further played with in that she didn't scream when she was in labor.
Sex Equals Love: Completely averted. More often than not, sex is something for women to endure and men to dominate women with.
Snipe Hunt: The royal children are just sick, okay.
Someone to Remember Him By: Subverted everywhere. Ava is left pregnant after Jacob runs away, but she miscarries. Isabel is still pregnant when Christian dies, but she also miscarries. Midi manages to carry her baby to term, but she's not sure who the father is and the afterword would suggest she's not so attached to Arthur after all.
Star-Crossed Lovers: Ava and Jacob. Jacob fled the country (presumably to Denmark) because it wasn't safe for him to be a Protestant.
Succession Crisis: There is only one male heir, and like his sisters, he's sickly. It's so bad that people are upset the king didn't have a mistress. The prince dies midway through the book, making the situation worse.
Surprise Pregnancy: Ava realized she was pregnant after Jacob had already left her. She insists that Jacob ejaculated on her stomach.
Switched at Birth: Ava brings Isabel her newborn baby brother to replace her own dead, deformed child.
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Once upon a time, this was Christian and Isabel. Isabel has lost her looks since then, but Christian always looked a bit like a sheep.
Whodunnit: This is a common question in the story, for a variety of situations. Unfortunately, the question they should be asking is "what" rather than "who" but with everyone uneasy, it just feels better to have people to blame.
Wicked Stepmother: Subverted, given this is a fairy tale. Ava gets on well with Sabine.
Woman in White: When Isabel is in mourning, she wears white. She's no longer slim and pretty enough to be ethereal, but she's still mad and it leaves an impression.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Everyone knows their fairy tales, and indeed the story is narrated like a fairy tale. Unfortunately for everyone, it isn't one.
Yes-Man: Agreeing with Isabel makes life in her service simpler. Not easier, just simpler.
You Can't Go Home Again: True for the three main women in the story. Ava lost her family at a young age, and more than that had to be sent away after a miscarriage. Midi doesn't know where home even is for her. And Isabel, as is the nature of political marriage, will never see France again.
Your Cheating Heart: The people are amazed at how loyal Christian is to his queen. But Christian ends up falling in love with Nicolas.