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Literature / The Kingdom of Little Wounds

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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 to 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:

  • All Men Are Perverts: 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.
  • Back from the Dead: A legend springs up that Sophia's ghost is terrorizing the palace. The narration implies it to be true.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Even our heroines aren't above some gray behavior.
  • Black Magic: People believe the royal family is cursed.
    • Midi is not a witch, but many believe she is because she is so strange.
  • Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: Not Sophia's wedding dress, but the nightdress she dies in on her wedding night gets very messy.
  • Book Dumb: Ava is illiterate. Ironically, her liaison with Arthur Grammaticus, the royal scribe, develops into a minor plot point, though Midi is the one he truly loves.
  • Break the Haughty: Countess Elinor is accused of and arrested for poisoning the royal children, after ruining Midi's and Ava's lives.
  • Clean, Pretty Childbirth: When Isabel births her last child, it almost slides out of her without effort because her body has done this so many times.
  • Closet Key: Nicolas makes Christian realize some things about himself.
  • Confessional: Towards the end of the book, Ava breaks down and spills out everything she 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, Isabel, and Midi. Two of these women miscarry, though not for lack of trying on the part of the third one. Ava's is anything but convenient, as it results in her effective banishment from her hometown.
  • Darkest Africa: Midi's origins are given this treatment by people at court.
  • Decadent Court: When the royal family is so vulnerable, power struggles are a given.
  • Defiled Forever: Certainly Ava seems to think she is.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Nicolas Bullen, who if he isn't attracted to men, he's willing to act like it if it gets him a step up the ladder.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After all the horror of their lives, Midi and Ava escape court, raise Midi's daughter together, and become wise women. It's also suggested that Jacob Lille comes and finds Ava.
  • Easily Forgiven: The queen would've forgiven Elinor for anything at all.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The reader's introduction to Isabel involves throwing a horrible fit and nearly eating a pearl.
  • Ethereal White Dress: 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.
  • Ethnic Magician: Midi isn't actually a witch, but everyone—including Ava—treats her like she is.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Unfortunately, most of it is awful. Also, syphilis is everywhere.
  • Fan Disservice: Pretty much all of the sex. Also, Nicolas has jewels sewed into his penis.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Isabel is widely known to be mad, and serving her is something of a nightmare.
  • Good Parents: Ava's father and stepmother, especially for the time period. They continue to support Ava even after she nearly ruined the family by miscarrying in public.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Christian and Isabel. They don't hate each other, but their marriage is not the miracle their daughter Sophia thinks it is.
  • Historical Domain Character: Magnus, Duke of Östergötland. He marries Sophia and quickly leaves after she dies.
  • 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.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Both the king and queen place complete faith in people they really shouldn't trust.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Ava and Midi are both fertile women, and they really wish they weren't.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: The whole story is apparently being told to a group of children.
  • 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.
  • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: The king is in love with Nicolas. His daughter follows suit.
  • Love Triangle: Midi, Arthur, and Ava. Ultimately subverted. Ava doesn't really want Arthur and Arthur just wants a socially acceptable wife, even though he truly loves Midi.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: After a while, Isabel is locked away from court.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Nicolas Bullen, who quietly manipulates the king into doing his bidding.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: There are seven royal children at the beginning of the story, and Isabel gets pregnant again after Sophia dies. The number of children falls over the course of the story until there are only two left.
    • Ava originally had many siblings, but the family was reduced to her and her father due to plague.
  • Missing Mom: Ava's mother died when she was six.
  • My Beloved Smother: Isabel is completely devoted to her children and cares for them all herself. Unfortunately for all involved, she's a terrible caregiver, and this backfires horribly.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Ava got pregnant by Jacob and tried to keep it secret. It failed.
    • Midi gets pregnant and tries to keep it from everyone. This too failed eventually.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: The nature of royal marriages. Isabel insists that she came to Christian a virgin. Sophia was also a virgin on her wedding night.
    • Jacob didn't penetrate Ava because while he wanted to be intimate before their wedding, he still wanted to marry a virgin.
  • Nested Story: Throughout the narrative are several short original fairy tales.
  • No Accounting for Taste: People think this is how Christian and Isabel's marriage works. Subverted when Christian is trying to hide the fact that he's interested in men.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Periods are even used as a form of characterization as all the women in the nursery cycle at the same time but for the stubborn and contrary Midi.
  • Nobody Poops: King Christian appears to be suffering from Crohn's disease. He spends a good chunk of the book defecating or thinking about it.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: The king and queen watch their oldest, favourite daughter die in horrible pain on her wedding night. Sophia is only the first loss.
  • The Plague: Syphilis, known commonly as the Italian Fire, is devastating Europe.
    • The royal family is all ill, an affliction everyone is calling Morbus Lunediernus. It's also syphilis, though the queen refuses to accept this.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Ava believes this is what happened when she reports on Countess Elinor.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Nicolas lays the charge for the illness in the royal family on the queen.
  • Rape and Revenge: Nicolas brutally rapes Midi. When she finds him heavily wounded by Beatte, she simultaneously suffocates and poisons him, both to protect her royal charges and to pay him back for his abuse.
  • Royal Blood: Important for politics. Ultimately abandoned, since the Lunedies are too ill a family to continue; Isabel takes another woman's baby as her own.
  • Royally Screwed Up: Played with. Everything that would normally be attributed to Royal Inbreeding or a Family Curse is actually caused by an epidemic.
  • 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. She regains lucidity long enough to work out a bittersweet arrangement with Ava and Midi: Among other things, Ava's newborn half-brother will replace Isabel's stillborn son.
  • 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. However, the epilogue suggests that he finds Ava on her island and they have a happy ending.
  • STD Immunity: Nope.
    • Nicolas Bullen believes he has this, due to a rather interesting (and painful-sounding) Eastern preventative.
  • 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 step-brother to replace her own dead, deformed child.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Nicolas Bullen, which is part of why the king falls for him.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: When Sophia dies, the kingdom acts like this is the case, going so far as to call her "The Perished Lily."
  • 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.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Ava and Midi are often on the receiving end of abuse.
  • 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.