The tale of Oriel by Cynthia Voigt
Tales of the Kingdom bk 3. Atheneum Books for Young Readers,
2015. ISBN 9781481403245
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Originally published as The Wings of a Falcon, the third in the Tales of the Kingdom series is a searing, heart wrenching, horrifying and wonderful story by a masterful storyteller. The boy is given no name by the Damall, the master of the small island where he trains boys who have been abandoned or enslaved. Together with Griff, his ever loyal companion, the boy manages to escape this cruel and evil place, taking the name Oriel as he leaves. Together they face many dangers travelling through unknown lands until they settle as journeymen to a saltweller. This is a happy time for three years, but the Wolfers, a barbarian tribe, destroy the farm and take them prisoner. On the run for a year, they face terrible privation, but eventually reach the farm of Beryl, who is a descendant of the main characters in The tale of Gywn and The tale of Birle. Here the three plot for Oriel to win the hand of Merlis, the heiress to the Earl of Sutherland.
This is a book that has many dark components - the treatment of the boys by the Damall is horrifying, there are whippings, betrayals and attempted murder. The harshness of the Wolfers is also appalling. However threaded through this story of survival come major themes, one of which is loyalty. Griff is almost a secondary character, but with his knowledge of what is right and wrong and his sense of justice, he gives Oriel the understanding of how to act, while Oriel shows him how to be strong and lead. Beryl faces heartbreak but she teaches them about love and sacrifice. Throughout there is a theme of women's rights - why shouldn't Merlis be given the right to choose her own husband and how do women left pregnant and single manage to look after the baby.
This is an intelligent and confronting book that could be read as a stand-alone. Certainly the series would be well worth having in any library and will appeal to readers who enjoy books by Ursula Le Guin and Robin McKinley.