In HW Cumming’s short novel for children, a mysterious lightning storm that destroys a nearby village prompts three young princes to embark on an investigative journey that leads them into the perils of the forest, the cave of an Oracle, and the throne room of a dragon. They must race against time to conquer an unseen foe and save their father’s kingdom.
The three brothers, Ingle, Horace and George, are congenial and content with their place in life. Ingle, the eldest, is even-tempered and thoughtful, and has a penchant for baking. Twins Horace and George want to be knights and completely trust their older brother’s leadership. When they witness the destruction caused by the storm and simultaneously sense an ominous presence, they ask permission to investigate. Their journey through the forest leads to a curious little man who speaks in riddles. This strange companion helps them navigate dangers and is more than he appears — and the boys discover they must overcome evil both inside and outside the kingdom’s walls.
Cumming delivers some charming elements here, including the riddling Rifflesly and an exciting battle with an ice dragon. But although the writing is technically proficient, it lacks the distinct voice and tight, vivid prose that would truly bring the story alive. The pacing of the book is slow, especially in the beginning, and there is little tension throughout to keep readers engaged.
The novel also suffers from an unfocused target audience. The simplicity of the story, along with the brevity and structure of the book, suggests that the intended audience is quite young. However, the vocabulary (“destabilize,” “staunch opponent,” “affirmation” and so on) is suited to older readers. Perhaps it would be an option for 8- to 12-year-olds who read at a level higher than their ages would indicate. Otherwise, it’s hard to say who this simple and sometimes sweet book will appeal to.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.