The Orphan King — "Merlin's Immortals" Series
The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the "Merlin's Immortals series.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Thomas lives in England in the 1300s. When he is 10, his nursemaid, Sarah, makes a deathbed confession that she is his mother. She has educated him well and shown him a mysterious cave filled with books that must be kept a secret. She leaves him with a cryptic message: She hopes one day he'll become an Immortal, as she was, and help destroy the circle of evil.
Thomas becomes the ward of abusive monks. He spends the next eight years learning about their corrupt monastery, planning an escape and piecing together his mother's messages to discover his destiny. At 18, he still can't make sense of her dying words. What he does know is that he must save a knight named William, who will soon be hung. He also knows he must journey to the kingdom of Magnus, which once belonged to his family, and reclaim it from its evil ruler.
Thomas blackmails the monks into letting him go and supplying him with provisions and gold. He leaves the monastery and disguises himself by wearing stilts and a dark cloak. He makes a scene before the crowd at the knight's execution, demanding that William be set free. An old man appears at Thomas' side. He clearly knows Thomas' identity, and he tells him if he wants to conquer Magnus, he'll do what the old man tells him.
With the man's help, Thomas frightens officials into freeing William. At the knight's side, also slated for hanging, are a young pickpocket named John and a deaf-mute girl named Isabelle. The old man tells Thomas he should take them to Magnus, too, as they will ensure a safe journey.
William pretends to know nothing of Thomas in the young man's presence, but William, a former Knight Templar, secretly works with the old man, named Hawkwood. William and Hawkwood fight a common (but unnamed) enemy and know Thomas is the helper they've long awaited. They worry, however, that their enemies may have lured Thomas to the evil side. Since Thomas saved his life, William vows to help him conquer Magnus. William watches Thomas carefully as they journey together. William also heeds Hawkwood's warning about Isabelle. They suspect she may have been sent by their enemy as a spy.
When Isabelle hears they're headed to Magnus, she reveals she is neither deaf nor mute. She argues that the group should avoid Magnus, as it is full of witchcraft and cannibalism. When Thomas refuses to change course, she opts to go along rather than travel alone. William, Thomas, Isabelle and John narrowly avoid being robbed and beaten in the forest by bandits. William begins to trust Thomas more and becomes increasingly suspicious of Isabelle as they near their destination.
After entering Magnus, the group wanders into the marketplace. William accepts help from a candlemaker who offers to give him information about the city. At his shop, they meet Katherine. She is the bandage-covered daughter of the former candlemaker, who was disfigured by hot wax. While the current candlemaker abuses her, Thomas feels deep compassion for her pain and loneliness and stands up for her.
Local officials arrest Thomas and William for murdering the monks with whom Thomas lived. Thomas believes one monk must have killed the others. Katherine brings food and supplies to the imprisoned men and helps them plan their escape. They get out of the prison with the aid of John's pickpocketing skills.
The downtrodden townspeople of Magnus have long been told their deliverance from the evil ruler would come on the wings of an angel. Thomas creates kite-like wings that allow him to hover above the city for all to see. When he reaches the ground, the citizens stand with him, ready to attack the castle. The ruler flees, and his guard surrenders, leaving Thomas to reclaim his family's castle.
Isabelle, to whom Thomas has grown attracted, reveals she is the daughter of Magnus' evil former lord. She is killed before Thomas can prevent her death. William helps Thomas become established in his new role as lord of Magnus. William then says his goodbyes, leaves the town and meets up with Hawkwood. They vow to keep an eye on Thomas and Magnus, still trying to determine where the young man's loyalties lie. As Thomas begins to adjust to his new life, he continues to ponder his mother's cryptic message about the Immortals and to wonder who they are. He also goes to the local priest to revisit some of his childhood questions and concerns about God.
Since the monks with whom he lived hurt and neglected others while indulging their own desires, Thomas harbors a sour impression of Christianity. As he prepares to flee the monastery, Prior Jack chastises him for threatening a man of God. Thomas replies that first, Prior Jack should convince him that God exists, then convince him that he (the prior) is a man of God, not a spineless pig. And if God exists, Thomas says, the prior should prove he actually follows Him rather than preaching one thing and doing another. Thomas tells the monks he knows about a letter they received that instructed them to educate him. He also knows about the false reports they sent back, indicating they'd done their Christian duty (when in fact, they'd treated Thomas as a slave). After Thomas' speech, one monk says he sees the blackness of death ahead, and all he is to God is an empty man who has pretended to serve Him.
Thomas is further angered at God when he meets the deformed Katherine and sees how people treat her. He wonders what kind of God would allow people to give this girl less pity than a dog. Visiting a church, Katherine looks at the gold candelabras and stained glass. She's angry the clergymen spent money on these items instead of feeding the poor. Katherine defends God to Thomas, as he rants that there is so much evidence showing that her God doesn't love anyone. He cites his own losses of family members. Surely if there was a God, Thomas says, He would have been with Thomas in the abbey when all human love failed him. But He was not. Thomas says that when he left the abbey, he left all pretensions behind.
William recalls the Crusades and how the Knights Templar, his order, were forced to disband after the king of France tortured people into giving false confessions against the Church. John insists that since he, William and Isabelle escaped being hung, God has marked them to be together. Hawkwood is able to help William escape by consulting old star charts and learning of a well-timed eclipse. But he adds that it is God who arranges the stars. Several times Thomas wishes he could pray when he was faced with difficult situations. When William says he won't fulfill a vow to help Thomas conquer Magnus, Thomas says William's refusal is a matter between him and God, since he (William) just swore a vow in front of Him.
The people of Magnus have long been told their deliverance from oppression will come on the wings of an angel. Thomas seemingly fulfills this prophesy when he sails on a kite-like contraption high above the city. As he prepares to be airborne, Katherine says it is God's will that he triumph. He asks her to pray for him. He later cries out to God as he struggles to remain in the air.
As lord of Magnus, William wishes there were a God of love and wisdom. He decides to revisit the possibility by going to ask the local priest some questions about God.
Other Belief Systems
The druids read the stars and planets, looking for signs about the future. Thomas reveals to the monks that one of their brothers practices witchcraft. Isabelle warns that the group shouldn't go to Magnus because witchcraft is practiced openly. She says the bodies of strangers who enter the castle are roasted and fed to the peasants. She says King Arthur himself once ruled there, and he got his power from the witch Merlin. She also suggests the last king who tried to overthrow Magnus was eaten by invisible goblins, and insects crawled out of his head as he begged for help. William has a strong premonition that he doesn't want to hear what a fellow prisoner will say next. Thomas tells Katherine that in a strange land far away, it is customary for men to build a kite-like contraption to check the wind. They do this to test the gods for omens before setting sail on a voyage, he says.
One monk calls another "spawn of the devil" and tells him his soul will roast in hell. Sarah tells Thomas she fled from evil men because she feared the same brutal death Thomas' father, brother and sister suffered, being burned alive in baskets hanging from a tree. A monk named Prior Jack frequently roughs up and/or flogs Thomas. Thomas stabs the prior in the side, leaving a flesh wound, as he prepares to escape from the monastery. John kicks an enemy in the groin. He later slashes through another man's buttocks with the stub of a broken sword, drawing blood. The candlemaker whips a switch across the side of Katherine's head.
Thomas finds Isabelle attractive. When she falls in a stream, and her wet clothes cling to her body, Thomas realizes she is much more than a little girl. He looks away to preserve her modesty. She kisses the tips of her fingers and puts them to his lips, her way of thanking him for saving her. Readers later learn Isabelle has been sent by the enemy to watch and tempt Thomas. A woman in the forest, secretly working with a group of thieves, exposes her bare shoulders and claims she's been attacked and robbed. Though William urges Thomas to look away out of respect, Thomas allows the image to cloud his judgment. Because of this, he and his traveling companions are nearly robbed and killed. Thomas gives Katherine a compassionate kiss on the forehead.
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Readability Age Range
12 and up
WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.