The Ickabog, by J.K. Rowling

Eight stars

Whatever you think of her, J.K. Rowling is back with another story aimed at her younger readers. This is not Hogwarts and there are not Quidditch matches, but the piece works well as a fairytale, albeit slight grim (or, shall I say, Grimm) at times as well. Rowling pulls together a great story in which many children can find enjoyment (and those who are younger at heart), as it adds some of the traditional world of knights and kingdoms to a meaningful tale. Well-paced for the intended reading audience and entertaining enough for me.

Life in the Kingdom of Cornucopia is splendid for many, ruled by a happy, if not eccentric, King Fred. Many of the inhabitants are pleased and show it through their creation of lovely foods and the area’s vast riches. King Fred is pleased to see how happy everyone is and does all he can to keep his subjects pleased, which makes for peace within all the land. The king’s positive outlook is helped along by two sycophants who use flattery to ensure all flows smoothly and with ease.

However, not everything is wonderful in Cornucopia. Those who live near the northern Marshlands are very poor and have taken to concocting a story about a monster called the Ickabog. This creature apparently resides in the marshes and eats sheep, as well as the occasional person. King Fred vows to take action against this creature, which will cement his place in the history books. King Fred leads his Royal Guard along to hunt down this creature, which will end the mythical stories and ensure that Cornucopia turns to him as their fearless leader.

As a thick fog envelops them, King Fred insists to his men that the Ickabog lurks just beyond their sight. A skirmish ensues and one of the men is shot, but Fred refuses to admit that it was human error and returns to his throne with the concocted idea that the Ickabog is to blame. Fred is paralyzed with fear and grief, leaving him to hide away and let others run the kingdom.

Working on the fear of the others, one man pushes the myth to the limits and begins creating stories of Ickabog attacks, as well as pushing a new tax to ‘defend’ the kingdom, all the while pocketing much of the money for himself. This leaves the locals on edge and poor, which stirs up resentment and added worry. As the myth story grows, some locals decide to take matters into their own hands and reveal the truth behind the Ickabog once and for all. It may not be easy, but it is surely something worth exploring, if truth still matters in Cornucopia.

While some appear to have created a boycott on Rowling because of a character in one of her books, I won’t stick my head in the sand and let vapid accusations distract from the heart of the matter; I picked up this book, to read and enjoy. Like the underlying premise of the piece, there is something that people are stirring up to start a movement, but it’s surely being blown out of proportion, for those readers who seek a story to escape. Believe what you will about a character in a book, but leave your social tar and feather pots at home when reading enjoyment is the name of the game.

While the story was aimed at a younger audience, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The piece was not overly juvenile and kept me entertained throughout, offering up some great moments of intrigue and suspense. The fairytale nature of the piece gave it a mystical flavouring, with a peppering of some darker and more violent action, which parallels those tales children have had diluted to make them more palatable. Rowling does well with that and keeps the reader involved throughout.

There was most definitely a strong plot and well-paced characters in this piece. It is harder for me to properly analyze it, as I am so used to books geared towards the older crowd. Even the Potter series sought to instil a deeper storyline and meaning, though Rowling does well to keep her readers engaged. With wonderful artwork by young children, the story pops off the page and can be read repeatedly, as I am sure myths of the Ickabog were told over and over to young children.

Kudos, Madam Rowling, for a great piece. Whatever your haters say, just write and those of us who are interested in a story will be back, while people will too much time on their hands (and no enjoyment of reading) can paint placards of their own.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: