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A Long Journey to Adulthood Begins...
Lloyd Alexander
As with his wonderful "Prydain" books, in this trilogy (the present book, followed by "The Kestrel" and "The Beggar Queen") Alexander sets out to entertain us, and if he can enlighten us or provoke us to ponder important questions of responsibility and maturity along the ride, so much the better.

But the entertainment, as always with Alexander, comes first.

Theo, a "printer's devil", naively fails to consider how new regulations set forth by the Chief Minister of Westmark will affect him when, his master being out, he accepts a commission to print handbills for Count Las Bombas (a charming scalawag in the tradition of Fflewdur Fflam, but even more broadly drawn and a rogue to boot).

As quickly as the reader can guess that this might be a Bad Idea, troops have smashed up the shop, and Theo is on the run, along with Las Bombas and Musket the Demon Coachman (am alarmingly competent dwarf who spends most of his life getting Las Bombas out of trouble).

Things are Not Good in Westmark -- the King is terribly ill, the Crown Princess has vanished, and Chief Minister Cabbarus is gaining more and more control and becoming more and more authoritarian.

In the course of his adventures in this book, Theo will meet Florian, a personally gentle and sardonic but politically ruthless intellectual who seeks to put his theories into practise as he leads his "children" to establish an egalitarian Republic.

Also along for the trip is the beggar girl Mickle, who joins Theo, Las Bombas and Musket as they travel the countryside as a medicine show, and with whom Theo discovers he is falling in love before he even realises that love is what he is falling into.

As always, Alexander puts his young hero on the spot; he must decide what is "right" and do it, even though there appear to be more than one possible courses that appear "right". Prop up the Monarchy? Join Florian's Republicans? Just hide his head and hope It All Goes Away?

By the end of the book, it appears that all is set right, the evil Chief Minister banished and Theo and Mickle headed for Happy Ever After.

Of course, this is the first book of a trilogy...