After defeating Maleer, the people of Balderdash work to expand their kingdom by exploring the vast caverns in search of more graveyards. Although Hurlock and the shaman have adopted Kaylan, few in Balderdash trust the prince. Scarlet barely speaks to him, and Screech is the only one to show him affection. To escape the tension, Kaylan unofficially joins the Spelunkers, a group created by the shaman tasked with mapping the caverns.
On one of his excursions, Kaylan is startled to hear a woman’s scream. After locating the source, he watches from the shadows as two men chase her down, swords drawn.
Kaylan realizes with horror that humans stand merely an hour’s walk from Balderdash. He faces a critical decision. Should he run away to warn the rest of the underground kingdom about the human invaders in the caverns, or risk losing his life—and compromising the location of Balderdash—to save the woman?
J.W. Zulauf wears many hats while walking the streets of the writing world. He started with a focus on the short story, first winning the Marjorie Flack Award for Fiction. Then he became one of the editors for Daylight Dims, which has grown into an annual anthology. He now works as an author at Evolved Publishing, creating the children's series, 'The Balderdash Saga', beginning with 'The Underground Princess.'
When we last left the inhabitants of the charming underground kingdom, Balderdash, Princess Scarlet had found her true love in the loyal pirate knight Roland, the evil Maleer was defeated, King Hurlock was happily ruling his kingdom alongside the mystical shaman, and Prince Kaylan was welcomed into Balderdash as King Hurlock’s adopted son. Fast forward three years and we see that Balderdash is burgeoning with “life”. But despite the prosperity, peace, and happiness spread throughout the kingdom, Kaylan feels like an outsider.
One day, as Kaylan and Scarlet’s pet owl Screech are exploring the caverns surrounding the kingdom, they run across two thugs towering threateningly over a frightened young woman, all human and much too close to Balderdash for comfort. Contemplating rescuing the girl, Kaylan must make an important decision which may place the entire kingdom in danger. But an even greater danger presents itself when Kaylan goes above ground and encounters a familiar face intent on conquering the underworld.
Seeing as The Underground Princess was one of my favorites from last year, I was very excited to hear that Book 2, The Prince’s Plight was released. Much to my delight, the second book in The Balderdash Saga by J.W. Zulauf continues along the same vein as the first, featuring stellar writing, top-notch character development, and a twisting plot which cleverly ties in with the first book yet brings a new dimension to the story by introducing human characters.
Princess Scarlet, as we’ve seen, is the central character in The Underground Princess. In The Prince’s Plight, the story is told from the perspective of Prince Kaylan. According to an interview with the author at the back of the book, “it was Kaylan’s turn” and interestingly, Book 3 will be focused on the shaman (ooooh…. looking forward to that!) This is an interesting decision by the author and it reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia where each book focuses on different characters, some of which overlap. While I did wish that Scarlet did appear a bit more in The Prince’s Plight it did not take away from the story contained within its pages. In fact, I would say that The Prince’s Plight contains enough back story that it could be read as a stand alone book.
I love the addition of human characters to the story and felt that it was time for the undead to cross the boundary to the land of the living. Lucia, the young woman threatened at the start of the book, was a wonderful character and I love how she accepted Kaylan, undead and all. New twists to the story were introduced when Kaylan encounters Lord Faron, who eerily resembles a young Maleer and makes a great villain in the story. The scene at the graveyard, ripped from the pages of Night of the Living Dead, provided a spectacular climax to the story and was definitely memorable.
As with The Underground Princess, The Prince’s Plight was illustrated by Luke Spooner. There is roughly one illustration per chapter and once again Spooner strikes the right balance between the macabre theme of the book with characters depicted as “undead” while keeping in mind the age of the target audience (6 to 10 years old). I can’t say it enough: children under the age of 13 still love and appreciate illustrations.
My Bottom Line:
The Prince’s Plight is a unique, cleverly-written and well-woven fairy/horror tale. Zulauf has created an unconventional fantastical world where the heroes of the story live underground and grapple with many “human” issues such as love, loyalty, courage, and honor. I highly recommend this series to tweens who love reading books with a touch of the macabre. Ages 6 to 12.
* This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own and represent my honest thoughts about the book.
Love this book! My daughter is 7 and is obsessed with these amazing books. I love them myself. She has 3 so far and has asked for the rest for Christmas. I promise you and your children will not be disappointed with these series.
While reading this second installment in "The Balderdash Saga," it became clear to me that J.W. Zulauf is one very talented "kidlit" author! I suppose I was aware of this while reading (and thoroughly enjoying!) Book 1 - "The Underground Princess" with my daughter, but as good as that story was, I liked this one just a bit more. A fun, rollicking adventure right from the first page, "The Prince's Plight" dances between the world of the living and the underground (but far from dead!) kingdom of Balderdash, as Prince Kaylan fights to protect a living girl from the clutches of the evil Lord Faron.
As in the other book, the writing is first-rate, the characters are well-rounded and interesting, and the story is engaging. Mr. Zulauf knows his audience well, and provides plenty of morality lessons without ever talking down to them. I particularly enjoyed the way he sprinkles the text with more complex words to challenge his readers and help expand their vocabularies, yet at the same time frames those words in well-constructed sentences so as to not "lose" his reader. I suspect Mr. Zulauf would make as fine a teacher as he is a writer!
The Balderdash Saga books are chapter books aimed at young readers (ages 6 to 11, approximately) and if you're in the market, you cannot go wrong with this purchase! Excellent storytelling and beautiful, whimsical illustrations (I wish there were more - minor complaint) combine to make an enjoyable reading experience, whether you are reading with your child or letting them "fly solo!"
Yes, the stories do deal with corpses and macabre elements, but the books are not at all nightmare-inducing. Mr. Zulauf has created a wonderful fantasy landscape, and I promise, you'll enjoy these rich, lively characters so much you'll forget they are "undead."
Bravo, Mr. Zulauf! My daughter and I eagerly await the next installment!