With her newest novel for young readers, Winnipeg author Maureen Fergus makes the ambitious first strides in what could become an epic adventure series. The Gypsy King, Fergus’s first foray into the fantasy genre, is a classic tale of good versus evil set in a world where gypsies are persecuted and hunted, people are bought and sold in slavery, and tendrils of conspiracy and intrigue reach into the deepest corners of the kingdom, including the monarchy.
In the middle of this world is Persephone, a 16-year-old slave. Strong-willed and defiant, yet slow to take steps to change her lot in life, Persephone’s few attempts to escape her owner’s farm have resulted in her being chained and beaten. When Azriel, a handsome young thief, appears in the barn one night, and the subsequent night at the front door dressed in finery and calling himself a lord, Persephone’s life is set on a new path. She is sold to him for a bag of coins, and the two set out on a journey that will eventually land her in the company of the corrupt and ruthless Regent Mordecai.
Darker in theme and more sexually suggestive than some YA in this vein, The Gypsy King skews to slightly older readers. Rather than just flirting on the edges of romance, Persephone and Azriel share a physical relationship. Though it is never consummated, there is much intimate contact, and a suggestion (only slightly veiled) of them sharing a bed. Meanwhile, Fergus includes fairly graphic descriptions of her villains’ heinous acts of slaughter, torture, and violence.
Though it doesn’t quite attain epic fantasy status due to an overly passive heroine and sometimes predictable plot twists, the fast pace and constant action make the book a quick, captivating read. Fergus closes the novel with a surprising cliffhanger, so there’s also the promise of a sequel, which will hopefully build on the solid groundwork laid here.