Review: The Broken King, by Philip Womack

Philip Womack is one of the best contemporary writers of children's fantasy, but it's been a while since he published a novel (The Liberators, back in 2010). So it's good to see him return with The Broken King, the first volume in a new trilogy called The Darkening Path.

The Broken King is about Simon and his quest his to find and rescue his younger sister Anna, who has been kidnapped by otherworldly forces. Philip Womack is well-versed in myth and literature, and I know he can trace this idea of the abducted child back to roots deep in the mists of folklore. I'm not nearly so knowledgeable, so, off the top of my head, I can only trace it back as far as Labyrinth. That film, you may recall, showed us that if you are lumbered with looking after your baby brother you have only to call three times upon the goblins and David Bowie will arrive in startling trousers to spirit the rugrat away to his Goblin Kingdom.

When left in charge of his sister, Simon devises a similar plan of outsourcing the job to a supernatural monarch. Since Anna is an older and altogether more annoying child, and probably too much of a handful for mere goblins, he calls instead upon the mysterious Broken King. Anna vanishes instantly, carried off to a nightmarish realm which we see only fleetingly in this volume, although its minions find their way into our world to menace Simon as he sets out, full of remorse, to win his sister back.

He is aided by Flora, who has made a similar deal with the Broken King, and by a strange, disquieting boy named Pike, who seems helpful, but may not be entirely human. There are benign supernatural forces lined up on his side - shining figures who ride on winged stags - but they're just as cryptic and unhelpful as you'd expect. There are also some mercurial beings who pose as a pop trio called Raven and the Flames when travelling in our world.  Driving around London in their-open topped car, Raven and her band seem to have come straight from the 1960s, and so, in many ways, does The Broken King. It reminds me agreeably of the Susan Cooper and Alan Garner books I lapped up as a lad. There are ambushes and adventures, riddles, secret passages, a lost temple to Mithras beneath the streets of London, a grisly secret map, and all manner of sudden twists and reversals. There's a real sense of deepening menace, but enough good and kindly characters are met along the way to stop it feeling too remorseless. I think it will please any young fantasy fan.

The only downside is that it made me eager to know more about the Broken King and his strange otherworld, about which we get only hints and glimpses. But part two, The King's Shadow, is published on the 7th of May, with the final volume to follow in 2016. I look forward to finding out what Philip Womack has in store for us.

The Broken King and The King's Shadow are published by Troika Books


Post a Comment