The Key to the Kingdom 1-4

The Plot
After the King of Landor and his eldest son are killed in battle, the people of Landor (at least the upper class people) are soon embroiled in a contest to see who will succeed to the throne. Five candidates of royal blood begin a quest for the mysterious artifact known only as the “Key to the Kingdom”. Whoever can acquire it within the allotted time frame will win the kingdom.

My Thoughts
After the death of his father and his brother, Prince Astarion, the next heir to the throne, refuses to take over or to allow a regency to be established in his name (he’s 12 or 13 as the story opens.) Rather than settle immediately upon another claimant and possibly spark a civil war, the King’s council wisely decides to organize a sort of contest: all eligible parties (aka those with some sort of blood claim to the throne, however distant) may undertake a quest for the artifact known as the “Key to the Kingdom”. Anyone who finds it within two years will win the kingdom. If no one finds it within the time frame, then the throne will revert to Prince Astarion whether he likes it or not.

Asta finds himself among the candidates, however reluctantly, and he sets off with his brother’s friend Baddorius to see if he can figure out just what this mysterious item actually is. The reader follows their progress, with intermittant updates on Letty (the only female candidate, and Asta’s friend/crush) and later Asloan Fairheart, candidate number 5.

With all of these characters and quite a few mysteries set up, I admit to feeling some concern: this is, after all, only a six volume series, and while 1000-ish pages is quite a decent length for a plain old prose trilogy, it’s actually not a whole lot of manga real estate in which to tell a complex story.

But we get right into the thick of things: the first couple of volumes serve very well to introduce the main characters and the present situation. And once the reader has a handle on the basic setting, the author wastes no time in delving into the history of the kingdoms and revealing quite a bit more about what’s actually going on.

It becomes clear very early on that the day of the summer solstice is going to be key, and the various players spend a span of several months getting into place for what will happen on that date. Volume four comes to a close as that day is dawning, leaving the reader to anticipate what’s going to happen next.

Thus far, the series has impressed me with its pacing. Not only has mangaka Kyoko Shitou resisted the temptation to overly complicate her plot, she’s also doling out important information a little bit at a time, rather than trying to keep it all until the end. I really feel like there’s enough time left for the major points to be resolved, and resolved well.

The characterization has also been good — in fact, I like Asta a lot more than I thought I was going to at the start, and I’ve been extremely pleased by the lack of stupidity shown by quite a lot of the characters. For the most part they seem like alert people who aren’t likely to fall prey to annoying plots like not passing on a vital bit of information for no good reason, or drawing entirely the wrong conclusion about something and acting a fool as a result.

Hopefully the final two volumes will continue these positive trends and bring us to a satisfactory conclusion of the story.

In Short
Mangaka Kyoko Shitou has created an imaginitive pseudo-medieval setting for her fantasy manga The Key to the Kingdom. The first two-thirds of the series is spent setting up the principle players and maneuvering them into place for the climax to come in the final two volumes. It does its job: enough is revealed to the reader to make one interested in the fates of the characters and the ultimate answers to the mysteries not yet solved.

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