The story is set in the kingdom of Chivial, a fantasy country somewhat reminiscent of late medieval England. The character King Ambrose IV was based to a great extent upon King Henry VIII of England. In this fantasy country there are dukes and barons, stable boys and merchants, castles and inns, and a most interesting blend of swords and sorcery. There is also mention of foreign raiders from across the sea.
When we meet him, Stalwart is in his fourth year of training at Ironhall, a bleak stronghold on the plains of Starkmoor. Emerald comes to the story as a White Sister, newly-promoted after four years of education and training in the park-like cloister of Oakendown.
It would be unfair to call this novel a "fantasy lite" because it is more brief than Duncan's previous works. The story does get to the point quickly, with one adventure rather than several, and so is much shorter.
Young readers who are ready to move on from the mass-marketed formula fantasy and horror novels by R. L. Stine and Chris Pike will find Sir Stalwart to be an enjoyable challenge, as the plot and characters are far more sophisticated than in the "Goosebumps" and "Fear Street" short novels. The vocabulary and grammar are not too demanding for upper elementary students, though.
The literary merit of the novel Sir Stalwart is as great as many of the thirty novels Duncan wrote previously. This story was not "dumbed down" simply because the author was hired to write, for the first time, a novel intended specifically for young adults. He spent his usual effort to create a believable fantasy world and to populate it with strong, realistic characters. Readers will find the story immediately engaging and the plot as dependable as a fantasy novel demands. (Fantasy in general is more formula-driven than even a romance novel, but also more challenging.)
Duncan's writing has two trademarks which are ideally suited to the short scope of a novel for young adults: his protagonists always have a strong sense of honor, and he always has a plot twist affected by the motives of the protagonist or his/her allies. During the course of a longer novel or a series, these trademarks can allow for a considerable number of adventures. Dun- Sir Stalwart: A Tale of The King's Daggers 385 can's novels in general, and this one in particular, are dependably strong on character and plot and do not descend to mere formula.
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