Book Review: The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal

I’m excited to be attending a conference at Longwood University along with Susann Cokal, and I wanted to read at least one of her books before meeting her.

I chose The Kingdom of Little Wounds because many reviewers said it was a dark tale—which is right up my alley. The result of seven years of research, this story takes place in the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn. She wove in elements of fairy tales and history through three main characters: a peasant named Ava Bingen, a slave/nursemaid named Midi Sorte, and a queen. They all live and work at the court, which is plagued by a syphilis (a disease they do not understand). The royal family is all ill—made more so by the horrid medical practices of the time. Under the threat of an empty throne (with princes and princesses dropping dead), there are plots and poisons, spies and alliances.

The story switches perspectives. Ava Bingen is logical and practical, but she also wishes for a better life for herself. Her father works with glass—creating telescopes and other lenses—and Ava is, or was, a master seamstress. Midi Sorte has been brought from a country far away and cannot speak because her tongue was cut and forked. She does know how to write, however, which is how she tells her tale. The queen, as well as the rest of the royal family, has very little choice about her life, her healthcare, and her daily activities. It seems a lack of autonomy compounds her ailments.

In many ways, this is a feminist work, showing how women—and the lower classes in general—were oppressed during this time. I like how the main characters find ways of using the broken system to their advantage (I won’t provide spoilers). The theme of storytelling and the importance of stories was also prominent and resonates with me, as I believe stories are essential to helping us make sense of our lives.

The novel could be considered new adult—I saw on Amazon some people bought it for young adult readers and then were shocked at the content. The story is realistic. There is sex—it’s not explicit or gratuitous, but it’s honest and does not hide anything necessary to tell the tale. There is violence. There are miscarriage described with enough detail to provide the edges of a discomforting mental image. I would recommend it to mature YA readers or adults who are looking for a romanticized—but also grim, realistic—view of a historical time period removed from our own in some ways, and in other ways startlingly similar. It’s a long read–over 500 pages, but it went quickly, and as the story progressed, the tension built.