Toronto author Elizabeth MacLeod, a prolific writer of non-fiction for children, knows how to make history exciting for young readers. The title combines two words with instant appeal; scrawled in blood red on the cover, alongside a gold crown and a dagger held purposefully in a black-gloved hand, they certainly catch the eye.
And the contents will not disappoint. MacLeod focuses on colourful aspects of the lives of her main characters, entering their stories by dramatizing critical early moments – when Vlad (later known as the Impaler, and the inspiration for Dracula) was thrown into a Turkish dungeon; when young Elizabeth Tudor was rowed under Traitor’s Gate into the Tower of London; when the future queen of France, a shy 14-year-old Marie Antoinette, arrived in Paris from Austria. From these moments of drama, MacLeod sketches in the rest of the royal characters’ lives, highlighting details most likely to interest young (but not too young) readers. Some of these details are gruesome – I would rather not have known what being impaled involves – but they’re always colourful and intriguing.
Ranging in time from Cleopatra to the Nepalese royal family members who were killed in 2001, Royal Murder deals with sovereigns who committed murder (often many times) as well as ones who were murdered. The subtitle is a little misleading, since some royal victims of assassins, such as the Austrian Empress Elizabeth and the Romanov children, did not engage in “deadly intrigue,” and more than 10 sovereigns are represented. However, the balanced presentation of the controversial King Richard III illustrates MacLeod’s careful research, which is also reflected in lists of further reading, a timeline, and the index. Many sidebars and diverse illustrations (photos, art reproductions, and line drawings) increase the book’s appeal.