Review: The Last Child of Leif by Chris Pridmore
Updated: May 22, 2019
As the main protagonist stands at the gallows we begin the narration of the early, yet seismic years of the Last Child of Leif. A teasing introduction before jumping straight to moment when aged six his father (the king) is murdered, and he and his mother are forced to flee into the woods with a single knight still loyal still loyal to the queen and her son. Taking refuge within the ranks of a travelling circus as it winds its way across the wild lands of forgotten their lives quickly become a matter of day to day survival.
As hinted at by the cover image, at its core this book is about the relationship between the young prince and this brave and noble guardian. With the guardian quickly taking on the mantle of not only the boy’s physical safety, but also his emotional and educational development. In this knight we have an embodiment of masculinity and honour, so much so that the death of his biological father (and abduction of his mother) is quickly relegated to passing observations. In fairness, the lad does have a fair bit to concentrate on in here and now, as, apart from being hunted to eliminate his threat to the usurper, he is quickly embroiled in a battle against the gathering legions of evil.
All of which is played out on a broad canvas, and Pridmore maintains a consistency in pace and exploration of his universe. As such, instead of immediately immersing the reader into a magical realm, Pridmore’s novel starts quite honestly as a tale of chivalry, and then seeks to push the envelope of the concepts young character is pushed into a wider and more fantastic world. This unravelling aspect was one of my favourite aspects of the book as it allowed the reader to enjoy the discovery of the stranger aspects of the world and its occupants. It was also here that I thought that narrating through the experiences of such a young child also worked best. I found myself recalling the quite excellent HBO series Carnivale with its mysterious entourage of freaks, gypsies, travellers and dwarfs.
It is a rich tapestry, conjuring a host of interesting characters and utilising them well to ensure that they are engaged in the story line. Yet it also goes to illustrate what I found to be the most problematic aspect of the novel. You have an entire smorgasbord of magic, action and adventure, but by basing this around the observations of a six year old child this unfortunately becomes a more passive experience, in that events are happening around him, or because of him, but rarely in a context in which a six year old child can take much of an active part. It also requires quite conscious effort on the part of the author to manufacture scenes to ensure that this child is present and engaged for important moments of plot development.
Thankfully, the pace and plot does assists in ensuring the reader does not dwell on this overtly, and by recalling that this is effectively a retrospective of the adult narrator ensures that the book is limited by what would otherwise be a six year old’s immature perspective.