Tales of Cynings starts out looking like a fairly straightforward retelling of a fairy tale or two. But after the first story it expands into a history of an era in the fictional country of Cynings where it is set.
The first story, “The Laborer’s Cat” is more or less “Puss in Boots,” although there are differences. After Horace’s father’s bakery burns down leaving him orphaned and out of work, Horace’s cat, Shadow, suddenly acquires the ability to speak one day when they are out roaming in the woods. The cat goes off on adventures by himself leaving Horace to support himself as a farm laborer. While the cat is gone, Horace is befriended by a young woman named Cassandra who turns out to be the princess of the country.
Eventually, Horace and Shadow succeed in getting Cassandra’s father to allow her to marry Horace. They are good rulers, beloved of the people, and reign together for a long time.
In the next story, “Straw and Gold” things begin to go off the rails a bit. This is basically the story of “Rumplestiltskin,” although in this version the dwarf is named Rumstakkelden. Horace and Cassandra lived long and ruled well, but never had any children. Just before his death, Horace seeks out his closest living relative to succeed him, a cousin named Hatchet. Hatchet as a ruler is neither good nor popular. He is primarily interested in gold and raises taxes on everybody to get more of it.
“Curse the king,” she sobbed. “Curse you, Hatchet.” She looked to the ceiling and shouted. “Do you hear me, Hatchet! Curse you, tyrant! Curse you! A plague on your family forever! I hope your offspring die childless and alone, hated by the nation! Curse you! I hope someone slays you with an arrow while you are on parade, you pompous, arrogant despot!”
Kobes, Cameron. Tales of Cynings Volume I (Kindle Locations 1144-1146). Cameron W. Kobes. Kindle Edition.
In a town in the north of the kingdom a young girl, Abigail, is arrested after being forced to look for food in the mayor’s garden, partially the result of Hatchet’s policies. When she appeals for a trial before the King after being sentenced to die, she is sent to the capital, only to find her right to a trial has been revoked by the King. She curses him and prepares to die, but she is saved by the appearance of the dwarf, who volunteers to make all the straw in her cell appear to be gold.
A complicated set of circumstances results in her reluctantly marrying the King and promising Rumstakkelden any child she might have by him. A revolution of the people brings down Hatchet without much involvement by Abigail. And of course, once her son (whom she names Hatchet II) is born, she realizes she can’t give him up after all. So, she must find a way to outwit Rumstakkelden.
This is all well and good. Hatchet II is brought up to be a better king than his father. For the first part of his life, he apparently does well. But suddenly, as he approaches middle life, he takes a fancy to a servant girl who doesn’t want to marry him. He takes her refusal badly and is driven mad as a result. In the long two-part story, “The Shoemakers” he manages to set off another revolution by his obsession with killing the girl, Airem, and her parents, who are shoemakers in another city. Airem actually escapes his vengeance to hide in the poor quarters of Fortadel (the capital), but only because another woman volunteers to die in her stead.
Hatchet stroked his beard. “I hope I may someday be so deeply in love that I go mad,” he said. “The moon, bless her name, may never have such an effect on me, but I daresay a woman quite possibly might.
Kobes, Cameron. Tales of Cynings Volume I (Kindle Locations 2106-2107). Cameron W. Kobes. Kindle Edition.
To escape the King’s mad vengeance the shoemakers take refuge in the forest on the border of Cynings, a place so fearsome the King’s soldiers fear to go there. The shoemakers are saved from the forest dangers by a trio of Elves who befriend them. In return, the shoemakers make clothes for the Elves, but the Elves have to remove them when they want to be invisible. Eventually, they find out that Airem has supposedly been executed, and they decide it is their duty to see that justice is somehow done for her death. They return to their native village to encourage an uprising, taking one of the Elves, who have all sworn not to use violence, to try to keep people from being killed in the revolution.
In the end, the curse Abigail pronounced on Hatchet is fulfilled, and Hatchet II gets his wish (but not the one to marry Airem).
This was an excellent story, full of suspense even in the parts where you know the outcome, and well told over all.
Cover image from Goodreads.
Title: Tales of Cynings
Author: Cameron W. Kobes
Format: Kindle edition