The Ickabog is a fairy tale, set in an imaginary land, which J.K. Rowling says is ‘about truth and the abuse of power’. It was written as a read-aloud story, but it’s suitable for seven to nine-year-olds to read to themselves. The story will be translated into a number of other languages and made available on the website shortly after the English language version appears.
The Ickabog is a fairytale described as suitable for kids 7 to 9 years old, but if we already learned something from J.K. Rowling’s famous children’s books is that once you’ve started the first pages, you will be compelled, no matter how old you are.
The storyline starts in Cornucopia, one of the greatest and luckiest kingdoms that ever existed, ruled by a well intentioned, but naive and absent king. Following the story of two normal children, their parents and some not so innocent royal advisers, we witness the decay of a once magnificent kingdom and the ever growing mold that roots from corruption, incompetence and fear of speaking out. It’s somehow a story that would still be a valid metaphor if used in any situation, whether we’re thinking about countries, companies, schools or any society in general. Because wherever there’s a group of people, there will always be a fight between right and wrong, between morality and corruption, between the common good and individualism.
Although much more simplistic and obviously, much shorter than any Harry Potter novel (don’t get too excited and give yourself unrealistic hopes, no, it’s nothing similar!), one thing that I found the two stories have in common is how easily they make you care for their characters. In The Ickabog, in a much smaller number of pages, Rowling still plays with your feelings like a puppeteer manoeuvres his marionettes. You will experience every single emotion, from joy, to hope, to fear and frustration and you will despise some characters with an intensity that it will surprise you. Perhaps there is no magic in Cornucopia, but there is definitely something magical about this ability.
The only issue I had with the book is the age of targeted readers. The book’s official description mentions “7 to 9 years old” and honestly, I have no idea what kids these days are reading at that age. So I might be wrong when I’m saying this. But I just felt there’s so much pain and betrayal, so much unfairness and bitterness radiating from the pages of the book that somehow, the joyful moments or even the happy ending (no spoiler here, it’s a fairytale, what would you expect?) might not manage to erase the shadows left by the ugly parts. The main characters may get a somewhat cheery finale, but the sorrow and losses they suffered during the years are still shading their lives. Yes, there’s nothing more real than this lesson, but is indeed “7 to 9” the right age to dwell into this truth?