Theo is a printer’s devil. At least, he was, until the printing of an unauthorized pamphlet attracted the attention of the law of Westmark. Now a fugitive, Theo finds unlikely companions in Las Bombas, a quack doctor; Musket, a short-tempered dwarf; and Mickle, a skinny orphan girl who swaggers by day and weeps by night.
While Theo adjusts to life on the run, Westmark teeters on the brink of ruin. King Augustine, crippled with grief at the loss of his daughter, has left the reign of the kingdom to Chief Minister Cabbaras, whose tightening grip on the nation has sparked the seeds of rebellion.
The rebel leader, Florian, is a puzzle to Theo. Why does Theo hesitate to endorse Florian’s politics, yet desperately crave Florian’s approval? Should Theo uphold the monarchy or follow Florian? Could Theo make either choice—and still keep his honor?
Initially, Theo believes in human goodness, but as he encounters the contradictions of human nature, he begins to doubt. The man who generously saved and sheltered an orphan child, yet who made his living by deceiving people with illusions and false promises—was he a saint or a scoundrel?
“Rascal he is,” [said Musket,] “But he’s a good-natured one. Take your nobles who flog their servants, gouge their tenants, or the judges who send some wretch to be hanged—they’re honest as the day is long. Any scoundrel can be honest.”
The man who believed all men were brothers, but who was willing to kill to create such a world—was he a hypocrite or a hero? And Theo: Was he truly as good as he once thought himself?
“You held back,” said Florian. “I saw you. Beware, youngster. Next time, don’t hesitate. It may cost your life.”
I highly recommend Westmark, not only because it is an entertaining read, but also because it raises questions that few wish to ask—or answer.
Note for the Discerning Reader
One of the quack performances involves a fake séance in which the spirits of the dead are “called up.” There is also some brief profanity (d--- and h---).
The Westmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander