My first novel, Mirabilis
and my second,
Breath and Bones
a Spanish edition
Mirabilis in Germany
THE KINGDOM OF LITTLE WOUNDS
a harrowing fairy tale of a novel
Winner, Michael L. Printz silver medal
Reviews and Plaudits:
-- New York Times Book Review
"Mesmerizing." --Kirkus (starred)
“Brazen, baroque, The Kingdom of Little Wounds plots coordinates of history, fever,
and magic in such a way that each is occasionally disguised as the other.
However, there's no disguising Susann
Cokal's immediate rise to eminence as a pantocrator of new realms.I lived in her controversial kingdom for only a week,
but I suspect and hope I shall never
--Gregory Maguire, author of
Wicked and What-the-Dickens
"Its eloquence and scope are
--Publishers Weekly (starred; a Best
Book of 2013)
"The book’s lyrical writing,
enthralling characters, and
compelling plot will
give older readers lots to
"A gripping stroll through 550 pages
... distinct in thought and
--School Library Journal
#3 on the Boston Globe's list of
best YAs of 2013
--Bulletin of the Center for Children's
Books, starred review
"I loved the layered storytelling with few answers .... Favorite Book Read of 2013."
--Elizabeth Burns, Cozy Up, SLJ
Want me to sign a spiffy peel-and-stick bookplate for your copy of one of my novels? I'm happy to do it--just email me your PHYSICAL address (send it to , or click one of the buttons on the site) and include the name you'd like signed.
My fourth novel, five years in the drafting, is a labor of love and a product of passion--aren't they all? Consider it a late-medieval semi-prequel to The Kingdom of Little Wounds, the kind of yarn Ava Bingen would spin to amuse the royal children in her care: a story in which a girl who's born half-landish and half-seavish surrenders her fins and tail in order to seek her mother on shore. There are plenty of mer-people, yes, and more than one witch, plus love stories of various stripes. It'll be in the water before you can say "swim"--March of 2020, with Candlewick Press.
So-called Famous Quotes--website with bits from The Kingdom:
STARRED REVIEW from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“I have always loved a fairy tale.” So says Ava Bingen, a young seamstress in the palace of the fictional Scandinavian city of Skyggehaven. Dark and bloody fairy tales inform this dense, 16th-century narrative, richly layered with multiple viewpoints: Ava, the mad Queen Isabel, the dangerously weak King Christian, the diabolically ambitious Lord Nicolas, and the mute, literate African nursery-slave, Midi Sorte. In her first novel for young adults, adult author Cokal (Mirabilis; Breath and Bones) explores the landscape of the female body as it has been for so long: property of parents or husband, subject to the needs of family and state. During a time of deadly court intrigue and disturbing portents—a new star in the sky, a muddy vortex in the earth—Ava, Midi, and Isabel negotiate their individual paths of survival until their fates are woven together, giving them a chance to save the kingdom and each other. Though the novel’s frank and upsetting depictions of rape, child-marriage, miscarriage, and syphilis mark this title for mature readers, its brutality, eloquence, and scope are a breathtaking combination. Ages 16–up.
I do not know the person who put together this lovely book trailer on youtube.com. What a happy discovery!
Susann Cokal is a moody historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and sometime professor of creative writing and modern literature. She lives in a creepy old farmhouse in Richmond, Virginia, with seven cats, a big dog, a spouse, and some peacocks that supposedly belong to a neighbor.
Susann's third book, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, received several national awards, including a silver medal from the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award series. It also got starred reviews in Kirkus, School Library Journal, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and Publishers Weekly, and praise from Booklist, The New York Times Boook Review, and other venues. It was #3 on the Boston Globe list of best YAs of the 2013 and won an ALAN citation from the National Council of Teachers of English.
Look under "1572" for fun and not-so-fun facts about life in the era in which The Kingdom is set. And look ahead a year or so for a follow-up young adult novel, Mermaid Moon.
Susann's other novels, Mirabilis
(PenguinPutnam 2001) and Breath and Bones (Unbridled Books 2005), also came in for some recognition; see reviews, articles, and related ephemera under "BOOKS."
And now I'll drop the third person: I hope you'll spend some time looking around at my short stories, essays, articles, and the magazine I edit, Broad Street. This page is mostly about The Kingdom; I hope you'll find something interesting in a corner here or elsewhere.
Thanks very much for visiting!
A Note on My Name
My name is pronounced this way: SUZANNE COKE-L. It's odd. Click the button below to hear me explain the meaning and origin in my own voice.
This is from a really addictive site where authors who write for younger readers explain the origins and pronunciations of their names. E. L. Koenigsburg! Jon Sciezska! Me! I especially like getting to hear everyone's voice.
A delightful chat with Emily Larramore (now Emily Krawczyk) about Mirabilis, my first novel. So great to meet her! She told me that Mirabilis was one of her go-to books as a high schooler. How great to become friends years later!
review by Elizabeth Burns
The Plot: 1572. The royal city of Skyggehavn in Scandinavia. The stories of royalty, nobility, and servants are woven together, creating a tapestry of a time, a place, and a crisis.
King Christian V and his French wife, Isabel, have produced over a half dozen children, securing the future of the country. The eldest, twelve-year-old Princess Sophia, is being married to Duke Magnus of Sweden, promising peace.
It sounds just like a fairy tale!
Except this is no fairy tale. The children are all sickly. Sophie dies in her marriage bed. Isabel, pregnant again, seems to be going mad. Christian is ill. And while the voices of the royals occasionally join in the telling, the true story of The Kingdom of Little Wounds is about two teenagers on the edges of the royal story, a servant, Ava Bingen, and a slave, Midi Sorte.
The Good: I picked this up because I saw it being discussed at Someday My Printz Will Come, and was intrigued.
The Kingdom of Little Wounds is not a quick read. It’s a dense, complicated book that plunges the reader into the story, into 1572, and the world of Skyggehaven. Isabel’s story, her marriage and children and unborn child, are important, yes, but — unlike many a fairy tale about a princess — the two strongest voices, the two stories most important to the reader, are those of Ava and Midi. Isabel’s story matters because of how it affects Ava and Midi.
Ava is one of the needlewoman for Queen Isabel; she is the youngest, the newest, the most insignificant, but she has dreams of something more. Ava wants to make up for the disgrace she brought upon her family, when she was abandoned by her fiance and miscarried on the church steps. Instead of working her way up the rank of royal servants, a mistake means that she moves downward and finds herself embroiled in the politics of the country, asked to spy by Nicolas Bullen on the queen and the children.Nicolas Bullen of Bon is a steward of the Queen’s household with great ambitions. He will use anyone, and anything, including a disgraced servant, to get what we wants; for those below him, he manipulates, threatens, and uses physical and sexual abuse to get his way. For those above, he manipulates, flatters, flirts.Midi Sorte was kidnapped from Africa as a child, sold and given away. Her tongue was cut, silencing her voice but not her thoughts and words. Her love, the court historian Arthur, has taught her read. She watches and observes. As someone with so little power, she takes what she can.Midi and Ava do not become friends; they are people who know each other. Who see each other as vague threats. That only increases when Arthur starts paying attention to Ava. Neither Midi nor Ava have many options or power. They are constrained by being female, by being a slave, by being a servant with no connections, by being poor. Each in her own way struggles against her place in the world, and sometimes, because of that, they do things that aren’t nice. Or kind. But, theirs is not a world that has been nice or kind to them.
Personally? I loved The Kingdom of Little Wounds. I loved the layered storytelling with few answers. I loved the complexity of Ava and Midi, and even of Isabel. I liked the historical accuracy and truthfulness: the casual cruelty, the concerns of court life, the fears. I like how Ava and Midi try to create their own lives within the constraints of their time and society.
I had a great time with this interview, thanks to Kristin Centorelli. She asked why I write such dark subjects and what my biggest terror is.
The first book I ever read was this one, Rumpelstiltskin. I remembering wanting to hear the story, but my mother was sick and lying on the sofa. She said, "Why don't you read it to me instead?" I think she may have been fed up and feeling sarcastic, but I did sit down and read it to her. Then when my dad came home, she told him excitedly, "Susie can read!" And he wanted to hear me do it again. I had tremendous performance anxiety, though. I was four years old, after all.
What did you read when you were very young? Do you still revisit those books and authors? I do! And I got to participate in a very interesting series about what today's authors for young readers enjoyed when they were very young. The link is the big green button ... Some of my authors are Louisa May Alcott, Edward Eager, Maud Hart Lovelace, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Betty Smith, Nancy Drew ... I read a lot of nineteenth-century "Be a good girl, now," fiction and have had to shake it off sometimes!
Chatting with book groups ...
Recent Skype session about Mirabilis with the book group of my bff since high school, Leslie Hayes. Thanks for the great chat! (Incidentally, I have blue willow china too!)
One of the questions raised over at Someday My Printz Will Come was whether this is, indeed, a young adult book; aren’t Midi and Ava considered adults in their world? Not really; while both may be working, neither is free to pursue their own interests or desires. Like some teens today, they have to answer to others, they have to follow the paths other decide, they make poor choices, they take anger and frustration out on the wrong people, their actions have unintended consequences.
The author has described her book as “a fairy tale about syphilis.” Syphilis, also called the French Fire and the Italian Fire, is running through the story as a threat. Nicolas takes a rather unique step in protecting himself from the Italian Fire. Sex and sexual relationships is treated both matter of factly (an upperclass woman entertaining a lover in front of a servant, because servants are invisible) and also spoken about as a sin. Being a sin doesn’t stop someone like Nicolas from forcing and blackmailing Ava and Midi, and neither have any recourse to his actions.
The court politics, loyalties, and actions are not always clear, because — much like history – The Kingdom of Little Wounds offers various perspectives. No one person has all knowledge. Some things are left unclear and unknown. Ava and Midi suffer small gains and large set backs, managing to do what they can while living under the power of others. For most of the book Ava and Midi are reacting, characters on another’s chessboard. As the final chapters approach, that changes. Ava and Midi take central stage, taking control of their own narratives.
The Kingdom of Little Wounds is, as I mentioned, a demanding read. It isn’t short and easy, there are many people speaking, and the time and place (sixteenth century Scandinavia) is unfamiliar. Confession: at first I thought this was an entirely made up fantasy world, due to my unfamiliarity with the time and place. Demanding, yes; but ultimately rewarding, by becoming immersed in the world of Ava and Midi.
A second confession: I read this as I was watching Reign, the CW’s series about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots while she is a teenager at the French court. Reign is a fun TV show to watch, but it’s so full of historical inaccuracy that one has to just sit back and enjoy the ride. If historical accuracy is what you want? Then The Kingdom of Little Wounds is the perfect antidote for Reign. (And, it’s also interesting to
read a book that is so about the impact of syphilis while watching a TV show that has quite the bit of bed hopping without any worrying about it, even though they are both in the same time period, give or take 20 years. And, to read a book about the hard work and overlooked lives of the servants while watching a show all about the pretty, rich and privileged.)
End result for me? Yes, a Favorite Book Read in 2013.