In the first book of the Westmark Trilogy, Theo asks, "Even if the cause (of war) is good, what does it do to the people who stand against it? And the people who follow it?" The answer to those questions is The Kestrel. Using a panorama of characters, Alexander shows war from all perspectives: from the leaders,' from the bystanders,' and from the soldiers.' Alexander draws on his own experiences of World War II to give the reader (of any age) insight into the moral complexities of war.
The main character is once again Theo. When Westmark is attacked by neighboring Regia, Theo is forced with a dilemma. Should he serve his love (Mickle) or should he serve his country? Eventually, Theo is compelled to join fighting along with Florian's forces because of a memory of his cowardice at the battle of Nierkeeping in "Westmark." Fighting a guerrilla-style war under the command of Justin, Theo begins to be baptised by fire. He sees comrade after comrade killed. He becomes filled with hatred for the enemy army. Eventually, he is given command and becomes Colonel Kestrel, a semblance of Theo who commits unspeakable acts in the name of war.
Alexander studies the morals of war through his characters. The reader is forced to examine psychological aspects of war in Theo. War is also shown through a leader's eyes with the examinations of Mickle, Theo, Justin, and Florian. The devastating effect of war on the countryside is shown from following Sparrow and Weasel.
The Kestrel is a brilliant continuation of the series. The plot is magnificent, and it has so much depth. The characterizations are excellent, and the issues studied are compelling. The Westmark Trilogy is a great piece of young adult literature. I've read some of the great war novels like All Quiet on the Western Front and The Red Badge of Courage, but the trilogy is better written and with more depth. Everyone really should read these excellent novels.
on May 11, 2003
The second book of the Westmark Trilogy, the adventures of Westmark continues in "The Kestrel". Theo is now traveling through Westmark to learn more about the country. He and Mickle, now known as Princess Augusta, are hoping to be married after he returns. But suddenly and without warning, Westmark is thrown into turmoil as the neighboring country of Regia has declared war on Westmark. Theo is once again forced into making a hard decision, will he stay in the sidelines or fight for his country? Eventually, he joins under the command of Florian and his people to fight a guerrilla war against the troops of Regia. As he sees brave and honorable men die one by one, Theo finds himself changing into a merciless commander and a stranger to himself...
For those familiar with Lloyd Alexander's award winning series, "The Prydain Chronicles", I can honestly and truly recommend this other series written by the 'grand master of fantasy'. A bit more serious with dark overtones, "The Westmark Trilogy" deals with realistic events that can almost convince you that the series is based on true historical events. Through the series you will be given a chance to explore the characters as they struggle with forces beyond their control. Lloyd Alexander gives a realistically accurate study of human nature and psychology of war. I must say, after reading this book, I was left in thoughtful silence, musing over what I had just finished reading. It is not very often we Young Adults are given books which leaves you in a state of contemplation
As I said, I can highly recommend the thrilling and psychologically filling "Westmark Trilogy". Best to read in order. But the faint-hearted be warned, this book and the next one in the series are somewhat violent and gritty since the main theme is about war. But nothing too bad to turn away lovers of a good series! Pick these series up!
on July 20, 2002
While "Westmark" (the previous book) and "The Beggar Queen" (the final book in this trilogy) are excellent books, this is the best, because -- well, because it's the one that has the power to hurt the most as you see what characters you care for are forced into by circumstance, the twists of fate and their own sense of duty.
Former Chief Minister Cabbarus, forced into exile in "Westmark" plots with the uncle of the King of neighbouring Regia to invade Westmark and re-establish a "proper" society. Theo wanders the country, trying to get a grip on how he feels about the thought of Mickle, the street urchin he fell in love with in "Westmark" becoming Queen... with himself intended as Prince Consort.
When the invasion begins, Mickle finds herself forced to become a military commander, and Theo finds himself among Florian's "children" again, fighting the Regians as an irregular, eventually rising to the rank of colonel among Florian's forces.
And Alexamder takes the chance -- without seeming preachy or heavy-handed -- to present us with just a bit (PG13 rating or so) of the horror of war and what it does to even good people.
Because "Colonel Kestrel", the brilliant and ruthless revolutionary/guerrilla leader is, also, the gentle Theo, who has never believed in violence as a solution to anything.
Someone has said, more or less, that Alexander is here presenting a parable on the uses and effects of violence, in causes good and not-so-good. He proposes (by example) the question "When -- if ever -- is violence justified in a 'good cause'?", and proceeds to show us (again by example) the answers to that question arrived at by various people of greater or lesser good-will.
And then he hands the reader an even hotter potato to examine than that -- he asks us to consider the after-effects of violence (even "in a good cause") on the people who have found themselves forced into it.
And it hurts -- in a good way -- to see what some people must give up so that others may still have it.
(David Drake presents a much more violent -- and most *definitely* adult -- look at much the same questions in his military SF novel "Redliners".)
In the end, everyone is forced to compromise somewhat, and all *appears* to be well.
On the other hand, this *is* the second olume of a trilogy.
on November 10, 2002
Regia is invading Westmark. King Constantine IX of Regia and his uncle, Duke Conrad, have already paid off the corrupt General Erzcour, who is the commander of all of Westmarks forces. Erzcour has ordered all of his men on the Regian border to surrender to Regia. However, many of his soldiers and officers disobey his orders, to stand and fight for their country in the mountains that separate Regia from Westmark. Unfortunately, the valiant fighters are leaderless and low on ammunition. They beat a hasty retreat. Queen Augusta of Westmark, who was formerly a street urchin because the corrupt chief minister, Cabbarus (now affiliated with Regia), threw her out on the streets before she knew she was a princess, orders a carriage to carry her to the border. She then rallies the remains of the army to the nearest city and resupplies there. She is eventually forced to fall further and further back. Meanwhile, revolutionaries who wish to overthrow the monarchy must for the time being support it because if Westmark is defeated, then they will be also. One group is lead by Florian, a very well respected anti-monarchist. He begins to organize militias and to support the Queens army as well as he can. Justin, a far more radical revolutionary who will stop at nothing to establish a republic, leads the second group. Theo, Queen Augustas boyfriend, becomes second in command of Justins group, and assumes the name Colonel Kestrel.
I would recommend The Kestrel to anyone who has already read the book that comes first in the trilogy, Westmark, because The Kestrel is the second book. Westmark helps give you more background information on most of the characters, particularly Queen Augusta and Theo (Colonel Kestrel), and the setting. This book is excellent. It combines war, romance, and comedy (in subplots) into one very pleasurable story.
on March 29, 2000
A fine installment in the acclaimed Westmark series, "The Kestrel" showcases Alexander's formidable talent for high-adventure narrative while exploring the dehumanizing effects of violence and the darkest consequences of political expediency. Nevertheless, the novel never sacrifices its entertainment value to the common pitfalls of self-indulgence or preachiness. Pedagogically, Alexander's novel also represents a useful stepping stone for young readers who have yet to encounter "All Quiet on the Western Front" or Machiavelli's "Prince" in the high school curriculum. One of Alexander's most finely crafted novels for young adults, The Kestrel has remained absent from bookstore shelves for far, far too long.
on January 20, 2010
This is the second book in the Westmark Trilogy and starts up a short time after the last book left off. It was a solid young adult fantasy; I didn't like it quite as much as the first book but it was still a very well put together fantasy.
Theo is assigned with going exploring around the kingdom and reporting the findings back to the Queen and King. While he is out news comes to him from Florian that one of the kingdom's main generals may be a traitor; right after Theo gets this news he receives news that the king has died...now Mickle is Queen of the realm. Theo sets off to find Mickle but instead gets embroiled in fighting and it is fighting that brings out the more violent side of his nature. Mickle, meanwhile, has other ideas of what a Queen should be doing and takes off to find Theo.
This book switches perspective a lot more than the first book. We hear things from Theo's view, Mickle's view, Kellner's view, the Chief Magistrate's view, Prince Connie's view, and the water-rats' view. All that switching around breaks up the story a little, but for the most part things flow very well.
As in the first book, the plot is very engaging as are the characters. This book is a bit of a tougher read because you have to read carefully to follow the plot and all the people; in that it is typical of most epic fantasies. The style of the writing is very similar to the first book.
There were a couple this about this book that were a bit "off" for me. The first was that there was so much discussion of politics; I personally prefer reading about adventuring versus politics...the politics are well done but there are a lot of them. The second thing was Mickle's character. It bothered me how she spent most of her childhood as a beggar and then she is Queen and suddenly she understands military strategy and is super strong and proficient. I think if I were a younger reader this wouldn't bug me as much; but as an adult I want to know where she learned all these military tactics...I know she is smart, but still.
Outside of the above mentioned quibbles, this was a very well done novel. You definitely need to read the first book first. I would recommend this for young adults and older, it is not that content is inappropriate for younger children...it is just that I don't think younger children will be all into the politics going on here. I am eager to read the third (and final) book in the trilogy Beggar Queen (Westmark Trilogy).
on September 5, 2015
While written in three books, this is really one story. The story to a country's rebellions and the people on both sides who sacrificed for their beliefs. It's a dark tale. The course of events have many similarities to the French Revolution, and people die - most of the main characters, actually. The author doesn't shy away from the horrors of war, the choices people are forced to make, that not all rebellions are clean and clear, the both sides might be right, that people often choose power and safety over honor and truth, that some sacrifice and some do not. It's a powerful story, one worth reading. But I caution the reader - it's not a happy tale. It doesn't end happy, or how you want it to. It ends how it should, though. It ends real.
on August 7, 1999
I really liked this book. I read it in only a couple hours because I could not put it down. It has a lot of battle and war, which inevitably makes it sad, but there's still some humorous parts, many times involving the "water rats"; Sparrow and Weasel.
It shows the effect war can have on different people, and also really makes you think about war, peace, revolution, and even the nature of man.
This is a really good book, and even though I liked Westmark a bit better, this continues the story well. I have not yet read The Beggar Queen, but will definatly be looking for it. Also, isn't it strange that while they are a trilogy, The Kestrel is out of print, though Westmark and Beggar Queen are still in print??
on November 28, 2014
I'm reading the Westmark Trilogy thirty years after first reading it and enjoying it just as much the second time. I had forgotten how grim and brutal The Kestrel was in its depiction of war. Lloyd Alexander sets a tone that is quite different from his earlier novels where the dark passages would always be leavened by humor and whimsey. Not so in The Kestrel where even comic relief like Count Bombas and the waifs Sparrow and Weasel become muted among the grim realities of war.
I appreciate that Lloyd Alexander was willing to risk alienating young readers and longtime fans with a work that clearly was personal to him since he had experienced the horrors of war firsthand. I'm looking forward to reading The Beggar Queen, the final book in the series once more.
I highly recommend this series for anyone young person (or adult) who would like to learn about war, governance and politics in the context of an entertaining and involving story.
on September 22, 1999
I first read the title in elementary school, and since then I have fallen in love with it. I read it quite frequently throughout my Middle School years, unfortunately, though, my torn, battered copy finally dissolved into crumbs. I searched for it for many years, yet always it cannot be found. My respect and admiration goes out to Lloyd Alexander, a master at his craft.