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The Kingdom

of Little Wounds




“Brazen, baroque, The Kingdom of Little Wounds plots coordinates of history, fever, and magic in such a way that each is occasionally disguised as the other. However, there's no disguising Susann Cokal's immediate rise to eminence as a pantocrator of new realms. I lived in her controversial kingdom for only a week, but I suspect and hope I shall never recover.” 

                                        --Gregory Maguire, author of                                                    Wicked and What-the-Dickens



“There are deep and shallow reading experiences; this is a deep reading experience. There is nothing like it, though the fossil record flashes all kinds of petticoat. (Sigrid Undset. Margaret Atwood.) Elegant, complex, and sharp as a needle.”

                                        --Blythe Woolston, winner of the                                               William Morris Prize and

                                           author of Black Helicopters 



“An epic, mercurial tale of astounding beauty, power, and madness.”

                                       —Gigi Amateau, author of            

                                           Claiming  Georgia Tate

Young women's bodies are the battlegrounds in a tale of palace intrigue set during the Scandinavian Renaissance.





Silver medal, Printz Awards,

 American Library Association


"Rich, sumptuous."

     -- New York Times Book Review


"Mesmerizing." --Kirkus (starred)


"The book’s lyrical writing,      

    enthralling characters, and

     compelling plot will  

     give older readers lots to




"Its eloquence and scope are


          --Publishers Weekly   (starred; a Best Book of 2013)


"A gripping stroll through 550 pages ... distinct in thought and


         --School Library Journal

            (starred review)


#3 on the Boston Globe's list of best YAs of 2013



      --Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review


"I loved the layered storytelling with few answers .... Favorite Book Read of 2013."

        --Elizabeth Burns, Cozy Up, SLJ



           The Kingdom of Little Wounds was a Michael L. Printz Honor book. It also received starred reviews in Kirkus, School Library Journal, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and Publishers Weekly, and praise from Booklist, The New York Times Boook Review, and other venues. It was #3 on the Boston Globe list of best YAs of the 2013 and won an ALAN citation from the National Council of Teachers of English.  

           Look under "1572" for fun and not-so-fun facts about life in the era in which The Kingdom  is set. 

In tenebris lumen meum metue.

In the darkness,

fear my light.

The royal Lunedie coat of arms, as displayed on Skyggehavn Palace.  The Latin motto means "In the Darkness, Fear My Light."

The Story

     The Kingdom of Little Wounds is set in a watery, witchy, mermaidy kingdom in Scandinavia, 1572. Young women's bodies are the batttlefields as three outcasts--a seamstress, an enslaved nursemaid, and a mad queen--plot against patriarchal court politics in order to save themselves and the little princesses.  When adolescent marriages were arranged for political convenience and lords had complete control over the bodies of the women in their families and courts, what we (and many people at the time) consider abuse was institutionalized. 

      The novel came out with Candlewick Press in October 2013 and is recommended for both young adults and regular adults (given the subject matter, it should be no surprise that there are some intense scenes). The paperback includes some extra materials.


Here's the flap copy:

     On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit and sweet spiced wine. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne’s heirs, and a courtier’s wolfish hunger for the king’s favors sets a devious plot in motion. Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem — and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined with that of mad Queen Isabel. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.

My sweetheart, my aunt, and my high school bff have told me this is my best novel to date.  How's that for endorsements???

(If they're right, it's thanks to Liz.)

My editor, the fabulous Liz Bicknell, and I do some hand-modeling with the stacks of manuscripts for Kingdom at Candlewick Press.

The Kingdom visits the house where I first learned to read and where I wrote my first stories.  I read at age four and longed passionately to be a person who wrote books.

interview on

See me with cats in the 

Richmond Times-Dispatch!  And with moving boxes!  And Meg Medina!

Wrote Colleen Curran:


"The book is a door-stopper with a gothic, inlaid cover and a reddish-purple edge stain. The author says she always wanted an edge stain, because 'it makes the reader feel like they’ve entered another world.'”





Four cats and I had just moved to a 1900 farmhouse south of the river when this article ran.  The brindle cat staring at the camera is Tove, named after my Danish grandmother.  My fairytale white cat in the background, little Isak Grimm, died shortly after this photo was taken.  He was the gentlest pet I've ever known.

I think this might be the most luscious cover I've ever seen.  Painted by a wonderful Finnish artist, Kirsi Salonen.

BOOKLIST likes The Kingdom!


Skyggehavn, a fictional sixteenth-century kingdom, is a desperate place plagued by madness, disease, and mercury poisoning. Political intrigue, murder, and manipulation abound as Cokal wends the troubling tale of Ava, an aspiring royal seamstress, and Midi, a mute foreign nursemaid, who together orchestrate a daring gambit to ensure both the continued power of the reigning queen and the downfall of the cruel man who sadistically took advantage of them both. The author seamlessly interweaves crooked fairy tales throughout her dark story, which only serves to underscore the grim realities of the women who suffer terrible violence at the hands of brutal men. The vivid, graphic, and frankly upsetting depictions of sex and rape make this a difficult read—and reserve it for the most mature readers—though Cokal gives a powerful and poignant voice to both Ava and Midi, whose indignation simmers until they enact a gruesome form of revenge. Despite the challenging content, the book’s lyrical writing, enthralling characters, and compelling plot will give older readers lots to ponder.  — Sarah Hunter.

From "Someday My Printz Will Come," a column at School Library Journal by Karyn Silverman 



One of the questions raised over at Someday My Printz Will Come was whether this is, indeed, a young adult book; aren’t Midi and Ava considered adults in their world? Not really; while both may be working, neither is free to pursue their own interests or desires. Like some teens today, they have to answer to others, they have to follow the paths other decide, they make poor choices, they take anger and frustration out on the wrong people, their actions have unintended consequences.


The author has described her book as “a fairy tale about syphilis.” Syphilis, also called the French Fire and the Italian Fire, is running through the story as a threat. Nicolas takes a rather unique step in protecting himself from the Italian Fire. Sex and sexual relationships is treated both matter of factly (an upperclass woman entertaining a lover in front of a servant, because servants are invisible) and also spoken about as a sin. Being a sin doesn’t stop someone like Nicolas from forcing and blackmailing Ava and Midi, and neither have any recourse to his actions.

The court politics, loyalties, and actions are not always clear, because — much like history – The Kingdom of Little Wounds offers various perspectives. No one person has all knowledge. Some things are left unclear and unknown. Ava and Midi suffer small gains and large set backs, managing to do what they can while living under the power of others. For most of the book Ava and Midi are reacting, characters on another’s chessboard. As the final chapters approach, that changes. Ava and Midi take central stage, taking control of their own narratives.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds is, as I mentioned, a demanding read. It isn’t short and easy, there are many people speaking, and the time and place (sixteenth century Scandinavia) is unfamiliar. Confession: at first I thought this was an entirely made up fantasy world, due to my unfamiliarity with the time and place. Demanding, yes; but ultimately rewarding, by becoming immersed in the world of Ava and Midi.

A second confession: I read this as I was watching Reign, the CW’s series about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots while she is a teenager at the French court. Reign is a fun TV show to watch, but it’s so full of historical inaccuracy that one has to just sit back and enjoy the ride. If historical accuracy is what you want? Then The Kingdom of Little Wounds is the perfect antidote for Reign. (And, it’s also interesting to read a book that is so about the impact of syphilis while watching a TV show that has quite the bit of bed hopping without any worrying about it, even though they are both in the same time period, give or take 20 years. And, to read a book about the hard work and overlooked lives of the servants while watching a show all about the pretty, rich and privileged.)

End result for me? Yes, a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

Cozy Up--SLJ

review by Elizabeth Burns





The Plot: 1572. The royal city of Skyggehavn in Scandinavia. The stories of royalty, nobility, and servants are woven together, creating a tapestry of a time, a place, and a crisis.

King Christian V and his French wife, Isabel, have produced over a half dozen children, securing the future of the country. The eldest, twelve-year-old Princess Sophia, is being married to Duke Magnus of Sweden, promising peace.

It sounds just like a fairy tale!

Except this is no fairy tale. The children are all sickly. Sophie dies in her marriage bed. Isabel, pregnant again, seems to be going mad. Christian is ill. And while the voices of the royals occasionally join in the telling, the true story of The Kingdom of Little Wounds is about two teenagers on the edges of the royal story, a servant, Ava Bingen, and a slave, Midi Sorte.

The Good: I picked this up because I saw it being discussed at Someday My Printz Will Come, and was intrigued.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds is not a quick read. It’s a dense, complicated book that plunges the reader into the story, into 1572, and the world of Skyggehaven. Isabel’s story, her marriage and children and unborn child, are important, yes, but — unlike many a fairy tale about a princess — the two strongest voices, the two stories most important to the reader, are those of Ava and Midi. Isabel’s story matters because of how it affects Ava and Midi.

Ava is one of the needlewoman for Queen Isabel; she is the youngest, the newest, the most insignificant, but she has dreams of something more. Ava wants to make up for the disgrace she brought upon her family, when she was abandoned by her fiance and miscarried on the church steps. Instead of working her way up the rank of royal servants, a mistake means that she moves downward and finds herself embroiled in the politics of the country, asked to spy by Nicolas Bullen on the queen and the children.Nicolas Bullen of Bon is a steward of the Queen’s household with great ambitions. He will use anyone, and anything, including a disgraced servant, to get what we wants; for those below him, he manipulates, threatens, and uses physical and sexual abuse to get his way. For those above, he manipulates, flatters, flirts.Midi Sorte was kidnapped from Africa as a child, sold and given away. Her tongue was cut, silencing her voice but not her thoughts and words. Her love, the court historian Arthur, has taught her read. She watches and observes. As someone with so little power, she takes what she can.Midi and Ava do not become friends; they are people who know each other. Who see each other as vague threats. That only increases when Arthur starts paying attention to Ava. Neither Midi nor Ava have many options or power. They are constrained by being female, by being a slave, by being a servant with no connections, by being poor. Each in her own way struggles against her place in the world, and sometimes, because of that, they do things that aren’t nice. Or kind. But, theirs is not a world that has been nice or kind to them.


Personally? I loved The Kingdom of Little Wounds. I loved the layered storytelling with few answers. I loved the complexity of Ava and Midi, and even of Isabel. I liked the historical accuracy and truthfulness: the casual cruelty, the concerns of court life, the fears. I like how Ava and Midi try to create their own lives within the constraints of their time and society. 



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