The Bible has much to say about child rearing, but nowhere better than in Proverbs does the topic sum up Penelope Hession’s new novel, “Constance”: “Even children make themselves known by their acts, by whether what they do is pure and right” (20:11).
More fable than pure morality tale (sans animals, although horses do factor in here and there), Hession’s novel takes place and time in an enchanting land — or what could be enchanting — far removed from ours. Peopled with kings and courts, the tale from this Ashe County author centers on the rebellious Constance, daughter of a usurper king and ineffectual father, whose childish ways mirror that of her parent.
Seemingly unable to do what is “pure and right,” Constance is borne of an environment in which her father takes the throne from his older brother but then refuses to rule in favor of idleness and what could be extrapolated as a descent into debauchery.
As a wanted man with a reward offered for his capture, Constance’s Uncle Daniel is essentially exiled, returning to the lion's den when he learns his brother has died to take in hand as hostage the wayward girl — partially for his own purposes in extracting the justice he feels he is due, but also because he recognizes that with no other birthright before her, she would lead the kingdom into ruin and misery.
What springs from this unpromising beginning is repeating resistance from Constance to heed the lessons given by her uncle and others, constantly “tripping up” even to the point of childishness as she is presented with the prospect of a suitable royal marriage.
As in many fables, Hession’s characters are not deeply drawn here, but that depth is not the goal of such tales. Lessons from all sides are woven throughout the novel — “train children in the right way and when old, they will not stray” (Proverbs 22:6); “children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6) are Biblical allusions — and far from getting in the way of the story, these lessons become the story, offering a fantastical journey into the maturity of both obedience and forgiveness.