Book: Four Kings – Author: M.D. Elster
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery
**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**
Description from Goodreads:
New Orleans, 1945. After a terrible hurricane devastates the city, fourteen-year-old Anaïs Reynard wakes up in an asylum with a case of amnesia. Dr. Waters, the hospital’s prestigious director, vows to help Anaïs recover her memories — this is of the utmost importance, he tells her, because Anaïs is the sole witness to a terrible crime. On the night of the hurricane, her stepfather and only living guardian was shot. A young black man has been arrested, and Anaïs finds herself under pressure from the district attorney to testify. Anaïs wants to help, but a strange feeling nags at her. She isn’t entirely sure the man on trial is guilty, and she doesn’t know who she can trust.
Then, one night, she receives an eerie, surreal visit from a dapper man with the head of a fox who entrusts her with an ornate key that unlocks a secret door to the land of the Four Kings. Like Alice before her, Anaïs follows this curiously genteel animal down the rabbit hole to discover a magical yet fraught world of not-quite-human creatures. As Anaïs navigates the political minefields of each king’s court — Raven, Lion, Snake, and Unicorn — her bravery and resolve are tested.
With each shocking twist and turn, and as fantasy and reality blur, Anaïs begins to unlock the riddle of her own memories, a trail that leads from Nazi-occupied Europe and her mother all the way to post-war New Orleans, and the very night her stepfather was shot.
Ok, so the description of this one made me go “Wait…what? Is that middle paragraph for a different book?” The answer is no, this is definitely all describing the same book. But it’s not quite as confusing as it sounds.
There are two mysteries to solve in this novel: one in Anais’ real life, in New Orleans in the 1940s, and one in an alternate reality, which she visits when she falls asleep. In New Orleans, Anais’s stepfather has been shot and Anais is the only witness, though she can’t remember what happened. In the Land of the Four Kings, human girls have been turning up dead and Anais, being the only living human in the realm, must help flush out the killer.
Both realities are fleshed out very well. Over the course of the book, we learn of Anais’ childhood, a large portion of which was spent trying to survive WWII. Coming at this from the perspective of a 10-11 year old girl (Anais’ age at the time of the events), who didn’t know exactly how bad things were, was very interesting. Places and events were described well, but only as well as a young girl could understand them. This leads to some very clever foreshadowing if you pay enough attention. The same can be said of the Land of the Four Kings. The people Anais meets explain the history of the Kingdoms, but mostly in snippets (as people would in real life), with each person adding their unique perspective to the events.
Both mysteries are very well done. It’s only once you get towards the end of the book that all the pieces start falling into place and you realize just how many clues were laid out during the course of the story. Alert readers will notice how both of the realities parallel each other, with characters from each sharing personality traits and allegiances. This only enhances the story, especially when you are given the final clue at the end of the book (no spoilers, I promise) and come to realize exactly why Anais seems to be traveling to this strange Land.
The only (slight) issue I had with the book was some of the verbiage. There is no way that a young girl in the 1940s, who was raised in Belgium & Paris, would use some of those phrases. But that’s really more of a pet peeve than a real issue. 😉 Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for reader’s who like Young Adult mystery novels.
The Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum