________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 22 . . . . June 27, 2008


Royal Murder: The Deadly Intrigue of Ten Sovereigns.

Elizabeth MacLeod.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2008.
127 pp., pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-127-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-128-0 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Kings and rulers-Assassination-Juvenile literature.
Assassination-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.

**** /4


What's that in the shadow of the castle? That noise outside the king's office - is it a bomb? Is that the smell of gunpowder in the princess's dressing room? Who's lurking behind that throne?

Throughout the centuries, emperors, queens, tsars, and duchesses have lived with great wealth, responsibility - and danger. Murderers skulk everywhere, waiting for a chance to eliminate royal targets. No matter how well monarchs are protected, they are never safe from a determined assassin.

With so much power at stake, no wonder there are many fascinating, strange, and frightening royal murders.

The main reason someone murders a royal is to grab the throne and assume all the wealth and power that go with it. The monarch's killer might be a subject - either a commoner or a noble - or another ruler. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, killed her royal brothers and sisters. Richard III of England has been accused of killing his brothers, nephews, and many others. Wallachia's Prince Vlad the Impaler - better known today as Dracula - killed his country's nobles, whom he judged untrustworthy. He also executed peasants who, in his opinion, didn't work hard enough.


Author of many books ranging in subject matter from cooking and baking, biographies of famous people, and fact-filled books on animals and dinosaurs, Elizabeth MacLeod has produced another sure winner, Royal Murder: The Deadly Intrigue of Ten Sovereigns. From her attention grabbing first words in the excerpt above, she maintains readers' interest and curiosity. MacLeod makes history come alive as she takes readers into the private, public, and political lives of the various monarchs whose reigns span a wide range of historical times and countries. These individuals include Egyptian Cleopatra in about 30 BCE, English Mary I in 1558, French King XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1793, the Russian Romanov's in 1918, and Crown Prince Dipendra of Nepal in 2001. Since chapters range from 10 to 18 pages, coverage of the information is sufficiently thorough that it will not be overwhelming for younger readers while still facilitating more sophisticated inquiries. This background detail is necessary in order for young readers to fully understand the intricacies of the time periods and the underlying motivations for the assassins' actions.

     As was pointed out in the excerpt, the reasons for these murders are many. They range from needing to get rid of one spouse in order to marry another, wanting to eliminate all competition for the throne, to the populace's rebelling to rid themselves of tyranny. One assassin, Luigi Lucheni, who killed Bavarian Empress Elisabeth in 1898, goes so far as to state, "I wanted to kill a royalty. It did not matter which one." Crown Prince Dipendra of Nepal, who was not allowed to marry whom he wanted, shot members of his family, including his mother, father, brother, and sister.

     Royal Murder will appeal to a wide range of readers. It is an interesting book to just browse through as one does not need to proceed from front to back in chronological order. In addition, there is sufficient visual interest to lure casual readers to explore further. The sidebars, especially those pierced by a dagger, will certainly pique their interest. Such headings as Thud, Saved By a Uniform, Hold Your Nose!, and What's Love Got To Do With It? also entice one to read further.

internal art

     The overall design of the book, from the uncluttered cover and ample white space to the judicious placement of text and illustrations, is very appealing. The inclusion of well-captioned photographs and portraits of the murdered royals, drawings, and family trees, also add interest and valuable information. Chapter title pages are striking. Page 49, for instance, titled Mary I; Elizabeth I; and Mary Queen of Scots: Killing Cousins is starkly dramatic. It features a black background with a red inset in front of which stands a black-garbed executioner nonchalantly leaning on his axe. In addition, there are splashes of bright red scattered throughout the book as well as blood-red titles and quotes. These quotes, by such diverse notables as Mahatma Gandhi, Elizabeth I, and Rasputin, are in Americratika font that fosters the appearance of an old document. Sidebars, also in blood red, offset by white print, add delicious tidbits of information. In one, the reader is informed that Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is a descendant of the previously mentioned Vlad, The Impaler. Others give additional background information associated to the main topic, and readers can peruse them at any time without being distracted from the focus of the chapter.

     Although the age range given by the publisher is 10 to 12 years of age, this book will also interest somewhat older students. The fact that MacLeod has chosen to include a number of female rulers in her presentation also makes this title useful for those studying the changing role of women in history. A time line and an extensive index add to the book's usefulness. Furthermore, the comprehensive reading list, organized under the royals' names, will allow those who are interested in finding out more about a particular ruler to do so. It is a very versatile book.

     MacLeod has the well-deserved reputation of writing well-researched and kid- captivating books. Once again, she does not disappoint.

Highly Recommended.

Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005. She is now working as an independent children's literature consultant with a web site at www.heartofthestory.ca.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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