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“In the heat of battle, sometimes there is no way of knowing which way is right. We can’t foresee the future. We make a decision. . . and we live with the consequences.” –A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying
A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying
by Kelly Armstrong
Twelve-year-old Rowan is destined to be Queen and her twin brother, Rhydd, is to be Royal Monster Hunter. Rowan would give anything to switch places, but the oldest child is always next in line, even if she is only older by two minutes. She resigns herself to admiring her monster-hunting aunt’s glorious sword and joining her queen mother for boring diplomatic teas. But tragedy shatters the longstanding rule, and Rowan finds herself hunting the most dangerous monster of all: a gryphon.
Accompanied by a feisty baby jackalope and a giant wolf that barely tolerates her, Rowan sets off on a journey that will see her join other unlikely allies: a boy with monster-hunting ambitions of his own, and a girl hiding dangerous motives. It will take all of Rowan’s skills, both physical and diplomatic, to keep this adventure on track. The future of her kingdom depends on it.
Rowan and her brother Rhydd follow their aunt on a hunt that ends in a bloody battle and death. The heart-stopping battle is not for the faint of heart. Armstrong uses detailed descriptions of the battle between beast and man. Even though many of the monsters in the story are deadly, Rowan respects the monsters because she has been taught to only kill monsters if there is no other choice.
The story is told from Rowan’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand her concern for others. Rowan often acts overconfident; however, in the end she learns the importance of listening to others and working as a team. The know-it-all princess befriends a baby jackalope and their relationship will make readers long for a jackalope of their own. Through her journeys, Rowan learns that no man or beast should be forced to follow another. People should only follow a leader by choice, not by force.
The cute book cover may give readers a false impression. A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying hits on some heavy themes: the importance of family, duty, conservation, indentured servitude, and political ambition. Rowan is kidnapped, almost killed multiple times, and has a face-to-face encounter with a giant spider and a deadly gryphon. The frightening encounters may leave some readers with nightmares. A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying is full of action, danger, and monsters who aren’t afraid to kill humans. The imaginative world is unique, fascinating, and will keep readers turning the pages. Readers who want an excellent adventure will want to follow Rowan as she learns how to become the next Royal Monster Hunter.
- Rowan is sneaking through the castle when she hides from a guard and a maid. Rowan listens to their conversation and learns that “she caught him flirting with the maid of a visiting lady. She’s upset, and he’s trying to tell her it meant nothing, and I’m stuck in a window alcove, wishing they’d just kiss and make up. . . Then the guard and maid do make up. And they do kiss. They don’t stop kissing. I don’t watch them, of course. That’s gross. But I can tell they’re kissing by the noises, which are also gross. They kiss and whisper, and whisper and kiss.”
- Even though monster fights are illegal, “people still poach jackalopes for their antlers, which they think can be ground up as a cure for infertility.” Rowan finds a baby jackalope, and finds the dead mother. “The mother jackalope lies on the ground, her body riddled with arrow piercings. The killer took only her antlers.”
- While in the forest at night, Rowan comes across four older kids. Rowan pulls her sword, and one boy “snorts. One of the other boys takes a slingshot form his pocket. The girl draws a knife.” When Rowan doesn’t flee, “a stone strikes my temple. I spin on the boy with the slingshot, and my sword spins, too. The tip of it catches his sleeve, and he yelps as if I’ve stabbed him.” When the kids realize that Rowan is the princess, they run off.
- When Rowan gets too close to a unicorn, “the beast bites my butt. . .and the jackalope leaps from my head onto Courtois’s neck and sinks his teeth in right below the unicorn’s horn.”
- The Royal Monster Hunter and her group find a manticore. As they track the monster, Rowan smells “a coppery one that makes me flinch. I can’t be a monster hunter and not recognize the scent of blood.” They find the manticore in a barn and Rowan “can hear it, making horrible ripping and gulping noises as it devours its prey. I can smell it, too, its dank must overpowering the smell of the livestock.”
- In order to kill the manticore, Rowan’s aunt Jannah jumps on its back. In order to tire the beast, “she rides the manticore until the beast stops bucking and rearing. . . Jannah didn’t hop on the beast’s back for fun. The position just lets her sink in her dagger in exactly the right spot. One hard thrust and the manticore stiffens. Then before it has time to feel more than a flash of pain, it slumps to the ground.” In order to teach others about the beast, Jannah “opens the beast up… notice the size of the heart, the placement of the internal organs.”
- While inspecting the manticore, a gryphon grabs Rowan in its talons. Rowan’s brother, Rhydd, tries to help, but “the beast holding me strikes at him. Blood flies. The beast lets out another ear-piercing shriek and slams me into the barn floor, talons pinning me there. . . The beak seizes Rhydd and flips him into the air, then lets go. As he falls, the beak grabs him again, this time by one leg. There’s a sickening crunch. . . The beast drops my brother’s leg. Rhydd falls to the floor.” The gryphon takes flight with Rowan in its beak and hunters shoot arrows at it. “An arrow buries into the underside of the beast. Then another and another. . . An arrow slices the fabric of my trousers, and I let out a cry. . . I grit my teeth and wrench it [the arrow] free. Then I stare at the sharp arrowhead, dripping blood.” Rowan keeps slashing at the gryphon, and then she slashes “the foreleg as hard as I can.” The beast drops Rowan and she hits “the ground. Pain slams through me and then. . . Darkness.” The scene takes place over four pages, but the battle continues.
- When the gryphon lands, “a figure runs from nowhere. She [Jannah] leaps. Her sword slashes at the beast’s rear flank. . .The gryphon wheels on her. Its beak swings her way. . . she swings the sword, but the gryphon’s beak closes around her sword arm. . . The powerful beak closes with the same sickening crunch I heard when it seized Rhydd. Then it throws Jannah. Before it hits the ground, it grabs her again, this time by the leg, just like it did with Rhydd. . . The gryphon has Jannah by the leg. It lashes back and swings her. . . Swings her at a rock. Jannah’s head hits that rock. There is a crunch. . . She’s on the ground, blood streaming from her arm and her leg and her scalp.” Jannah dies. The battle scene is described over eight pages.
- As Rowan tries to chase a monster away, “something hits my arm and knocks me off balance. As I stumble, I see an arrow lodged in my sleeve.” Rowan drops to the ground, and “I’m leaping up when another arrow whizzes past. It hits the warakin in the shoulder. The beast squeals in rage.” Rowan is able to drive off the warakin before anyone gets hurt.
- As a pegasus attacks Rowan, the jackalope jumps on her back. The pegasus “flies up with great flaps of her wings, and Jacko clings to her, squealing. She dives, and he tumbles, and I scream. Then he’s dangling from her mane, his claws tangled in it. The pegasus tosses her head, and Jacko goes flying.”
- Rowan’s companion Warg is a giant wolf. He hunts at night and “when he returns, the blood on his muzzle tells me he’s eaten.”
- When Rowan tries to give a pegasus a sedative, the pegasus “wheels and rears. One hoof hits that sore shoulder again. I stumble, and I see another hoof coming straight for my head. My arm flies up. Her foreleg is delicate enough that I knock it off course. As I scramble out of the way, she comes at me again. This time, she grabs my tunic in her teeth and whips me off my feet.” Rowan gives the pegasus the sedative and then “she lies there, legs splayed and bent, her head drooping.” Rowan realizes that giving the sedative to the pegasus was wrong. The scene is described over five pages.
- Rowan comes across an overturned wagon. A couple says their baby is stuck underneath the wagon. When Rowan crawls under the wagon to help, a man “wrenches me by the hair. I try to swing at his face, but there isn’t enough room. I yank out my dagger and slice his arm instead. He snarls. I slash the blade as I back out. Someone grabs my legs. Hands grapple at me from the wagon wreck. . . The young man shoves a sack over my head. I scream under it. Scream and kick and punch. As he hauls me away, my feet tangle, and I fall. He keeps dragging me, the sack cutting into my throat.” Rowan is captured and put in a cage.
- After Rowan escapes, she watches a boy talk to Alianor. Rowan thinks that the two worked together to capture her, so Rowan hits “him square in the back, and he lands face-first with an oomph. I try to pin him, but he’s twisting, and he manages to get onto his back and throw me aside. That’s when Jacko attacks. He jumps onto Dain’s face and digs his claws in, legs wrapped around Dain’s head. . . Jacko sails from nowhere. He lands on Dain’s lap and sinks his teeth into the boy’s stomach. Dain yelps. . .”
- While climbing a tree, Rowan disturbs a spider’s nest. Spiders begin dropping onto Rowan and Dain. A spider gets under Dain’s tunic and Rowan tries to “reach up under the fabric and pull out the spider. As I do, he yelps and bats at the back of his tunic. Another lump scuttles underneath. Then Dain yelps louder, in pain now. . .” Rowan discovers that the spiders are jba-fofi. “According to legend, only baby jba-fofi live in trees. The adults are too big for that. They’re the size of dogs, and they build trapdoors on their burrows. When any unsuspecting prey passes, they jump out and drag it in.” Rowan and Dain are able to get out of the tree.
- As Alianor walks in the forest, “the ground opens, and a giant spider grabs her leg. . . She falls face-first as the spider drags her into its lair. The ground closes and they’re gone.”
- In order to save Alianor, Rowan crawls into the spider’s lair. She finds “a fawn wrapped in black spider silk. The corpse is desiccated—drained of blood. I shiver as I shift the carcass aside. . . I continue along. . . This time when I reach down I’m touching a soft-and-hard bundle that I know is wrapped prey. I try to keep going, crawling over the bundles, flinching as the dried bodies crackle within.” Rowan finds the spider, but before she can do anything, the jba-fofi springs. “It’s on me before I can even free my blade. . . The spider’s two front legs wrap around my chest. It pulls me toward its jaws, and Jacko shrieks, leaping on the beast. . . Jacko jumps onto the spider, sinking his fangs onto its back.” To get away from the spider, Rowan starts a fire and “shoves more mummies into the fire, stretching them in a line between us and the jba-fofi.”
- Rowan searches for Alianor. “Then I see her head, completely wrapped in black webbing. I grab the webbing and pull. It sticks to my fingers and holds fast, refusing to break. With my trembling hand, I pick up my dropped dagger. I feel for her mouth, find it and slice the webbing as carefully as I can. . . I open her mouth. There’s more webbing in there. I yank it out and then press my hands against her chest and . . . Alianor coughs.”
- As Rowan and Alianor try to escape, “something wraps around my [Rowan’s] leg. As I fight, it pulls hard, and I’m flipped onto my back. . . I kick as hard as I can. The spider squeals. I crawl back on my elbows and knees. I’m flipping over when powerful fangs grip my leg. . .” Dain is able to pull Rowan out of the spider’s lair and the pegasus attacks the spider. The spider scene is described over sixteen pages.
- Lanslet, a teenager, attacks Rowan hoping to kill her. “He lunges at me. I leap forward to counter, and that isn’t what he expects. Our swords clang. . . My sword strikes his arm. He never even flinches, just draws his sword back and— An arrow hits his shoulder.” One of Rowan’s companions shoots arrows at Lanslet and “Malric hits Lanslet square in the back. The young man goes down with the Warg on top of him. Malric’s teeth sink into Lanslet’s collarbone, ripping away the leather. Lanslet screeches, and running footsteps sound as someone shouts an alarm.” Rowan is able to escape. The fight is described over three pages.
- A gryphon comes after Rowan and her companions. “Malric charges. The gryphon rears like a horse, its talons flashing, but Malric feints to the side. When the gryphon twists to parry, Malric leaps, teeth sinking into the beast’s foreleg.” Malric pretends to be injured so the gryphon will attack him and the kids are able to hide in a cave.
- Malric tries to sneak past the gryphon. Malric is “crouching to jump when the gryphon grabs him around his neck. . . The gryphon throws Malric. Warg hits the cavern wall, and that crunch rings out. That terrible crunch I will never forget—the one I heard when the gryphon pitched my aunt head-first into a rock.” Malric is injured. “Inside the cavern, the gryphon stomps about, shrieking in rage. That’s all I see. The gryphon. . . and a blood-smeared wall.”
- Dain soaks arrowheads in a sedative and shoots them at the gryphon. “The gryphon lunged. Dain dives to the side. The gryphon’s beak snaps. It catches Dain’s bare foot. He drops the arrow as he falls clear of the beast and rolls across the cavern floor. . . As the beast turns, I see the angry red scabs on the foreleg I injured a week ago. I swing my sword right at the same spot. The blade slices in. The beast lets out a terrible screech of pain and rage.” The beast succumbs to the sedative and goes unconscious. The scene with the gryphon is described on and off for thirty-six pages. No one is seriously injured.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Someone has to taste the queen’s food and drink to make sure it is not poisoned.
- Rowan gets angry that the pegasus isn’t friendly, so she gives her a sedative.
- In order to capture Rowan, her captors drugged Warg.
- Rowan thinks unicorns are “jerks.”
- Rowan’s father wrote an inscription on the inside of a book that he gave her as a gift. As she reads the message, Rowan misses her father, but thinks, “he’s watching from the others side, and he’s there every time I add a new page or a new fact or a new sketch.”