‘…It must be tough to care about the future when your fate has been decided for you since the day you were born.’
Alfie was speechless. It was as if Lock had reached into the darkest corner of his mind and shone a light on the thing he’d been secretly feeling all his life. That strange empty sensation deep down in his gut: that feeling of total utter pointlessness. Like nothing he did mattered. He tried not to think about about the future, because when he did, all he saw was more of the same – a life not his own, governed by stupid rules and traditions and ceremonies he neither understood nor cared about. His father’s life. The life that would one day be his.
(Defender of the Realm by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler. P54.)
Alfie is heir to the throne, but he’s not keen on the title. It is difficult enough being fourteen, and dealing with the school bully. Being Prince means the world is watching your every blunder. It means constant monitoring by security services. It means failing to meet your father’s expectations. Everybody knows Alfie’s brother, Richard, is the one for the job. As far as Alfie is concerned, Richard can have it.
Alfie’s life changes in a moment, and it turns out there is more to being a Royal than waving to the camera. Alfie is called on to be the Defender. There’s a whole side to Britain’s history which has been covered up. With a monster on the loose, there is no time to learn.
Hayley is caring for her elderly gran. It’s a huge responsibility, but Hayley would do anything for Gran. Hayley is given additional worries when a trip to the Tower of London ends with a brutal attack by a supposedly made-up creature. Hayley pockets evidence of the attack, and draws the attention of Britain’s very secret services. The ones who destroy such evidence at all costs.
The events which began at the Tower draw Alfie and Hayley together. Is the difference between them deeper than their social background? Will Hayley evade the evil agents? Is Alfie ever going to be fit to save the realm?
Ancient myths are given a new lease of life. Like Ned’s Circus of Marvels, and Harry Potter, Defender of the Realm uses the old myths to give Britain its hidden past. Devil Dogs? Vikings unleased them when they came to conquer. Dragons? Still causing mayhem. That’s the first reason I love this book. As well as forming the plot, mythology crops up in unexpected places to give the book its tone. (The Prince’s dog? His name is Herne.)
The second reason I love this book: it is edge-of-the-seat readable. Huckerby and Ostler are masters of scene. They are great at hooking the reader, pulling them along, then throwing in the unexpected to keep things interesting. They know when to ramp up the drama, and when to use comedic effect. You’ll always be on for one more chapter. I defy you to put it down past chapter three.
The story is up to date with its technology – news spreads via social media, and kids are ahead of adults in communication and gadgetry. Hayley is a ahead of Alfie in the technology stakes. It is nice to see a female character as a role model for STEM interests. Alfie inherits some seriously cool super weapons which date to the dawn of time, but Hayley makes his job easier with a webcam and microphone.
Huckerby and Ostler have done a great job of ensuring a diverse readership can relate to Alfie. Alfie is complex enough to be more than a poor-little-rich-boy. If you can’t relate to his private education and palatial home, you might relate to how difficult he finds it to deal with the school bully. How Dad is too busy with work to help Alfie figure the world out. Failing that, Hayley provides a great contrast. In material terms, she has nothing. She also has a huge responsibility as Gran’s carer. Hayley proves a great role model to Alfie, regardless of her social background.
The main theme is responsibility, and the core message is about the difference between having superpowers and being a hero. Alfie learns there are better reasons to do your duty than to fit the title. A fast-paced adventure with a lasting message. Brilliant.
Huge thanks to Faye for my copies of Defender of the Realm and Defender of the Realm – Dark Age. I look forward to reading book two. I won my copies in a competition. This does not affect the honesty of my review.