Chapter 1: King Fred the Fearless
This chapter introduces the character of King Fred, a mostly cowardly and aloof king who has a false impression of himself as being a benevolent and brave ruler. It also introduces his two best friends, Lords Spittleworth and Flapoon, who spend their days with the king hunting and celebrating their wealth by gorging on immense feasts. A love interest, Lady Eslanda, is also introduced – it is revealed that King Fred has interest in her but this is discouraged by Lord Spittleworth since she rejected Lord Spittleworth in the past.
The kingdom that King Fred rules is called Cornucopia. Areas within Cornucopia are named for the delicious foods and drinks produced there. Chouxville produces pastries, Kurdsburg produces cheese, Baronstown produces ham, and Jeroboam produces wine. In contrast, a land known as the Marshlands on the outskirts of Cornucopia is described as being barren, with only rubbery mushrooms and mangy sheep. The people of Cornucopia ridicule the Marshlanders for their gaunt figures, ragged clothes, and rough voices.
Chapter 2: The Ickabog
This chapter introduces the main antagonist, the Ickabog, a mythical monster that roams the Marshlands. The Ickabog is a figure used to strike fear in children throughout Cornucopia, though stories of the Ickabog began in the Marshlands. The way its appearance and fearful abilities are described depends on who is telling the story; it is sometimes described as snake-like and other times as wolf-like, sometimes said to roar and sometimes said to be silent. What is agreed upon is that if sheep or people go into a certain part of the Marshlands where the Ickabog lives, they won't come back.
Bert Beamish is a young boy from Chouxville who becomes terrified of the Ickabog after his father's friend, Mr. Dovetail, tells a story about him. He has nightmares about the Ickabog, so his father's friend decides to carve an Ickabog toy for Bert, which ends up becoming his favorite toy.
The chapter ends with the foreshadowing of problems to come: “They lived in the happiest kingdom in the world. What harm could the Ickabog do?”
Chapter 3: Death of a Seamstress
The Beamish and Dovetail families both live in a section of Chouxville that is reserved for those who work closely for King Fred. Bert Beamish's father is the head of the Royal Guard and his mother is the king's private pastry chef. Bert's best friend Daisy Dovetail's father is the king's carpenter and her mother is the Head Seamstress for the king. Bert and Daisy have been best friends since childhood, and Daisy always stands up for Bert when he is teased for being overweight.
The King of Pluritania comes to visit King Fred, so King Fred asks the Head Seamstress to make him a new outfit. King Fred is very vain and particular about his clothing, so he says that Daisy's mother must make the whole thing. The king had heard that Daisy's mother wasn't feeling well, but he doesn't care. Daisy's mother works on the outfit for three days and nights straight, and on the morning of the fourth day she is found to be dead.
King Fred's Chief Advisor Herringbone brings the king the news. The king feels guilty, but his friends Lord Spittleworth and Lord Flapoon convince him that he treats his servants well and that it was actually disloyalty for the Head Seamstress to not tell him she was feeling sick. King Fred feasts with the King of Pluritania, but all the while he feels that his servants are looking at him somewhat coldly. In the evening, Herringbone asks him whether he is planning on sending flowers and visiting the Dovetail family. King Fred says he will send flowers, but he doesn't want to visit the family. Since King Fred is used to everyone praising him, he starts to get angry at people expecting him to care so much about the death of a mere seamstress. He says "life goes on" and goes to sleep.
Chapter 4: The Quiet House
The Dovetails hold a funeral for Mrs. Dovetail, which King Fred does not attend. Bert does not know what to say to his friend Daisy. Daisy and her father stay in the graveyard until everyone else has gone, and then they move the wreath the king sent away from the headstone.
A week after the funeral, when King Fred goes out riding with the two lords and Mr. Beamish, he sees a house with black drapes over the windows and door. He asks whose house it is, and Mr. Beamish reminds him that it is the Dovetail house. After that day, King Fred is disturbed whenever he passes by the house because it makes him think about Mrs. Dovetail dying while making him a new outfit.
King Fred summons Herringbone and asks him to move the Dovetails out of their house so he won't have to see the black drapes anymore. Herringbone does as he is told and swaps the Dovetail and Roach families. The Roach children cheer for the king whenever he passes by, and King Fred soon forgets all about Mrs. Dovetail.
Chapter 5: Daisy Dovetail
King Fred's servants are split regarding Mrs. Dovetail's death. Some servants thought that King Fred is to blame for the death, and others thought that there must have been a mistake because King Fred always treats his servants well. Mr. and Mrs. Beamish both want to believe that King Fred treats his servants well, even though they are upset that King Fred has gone on with his life cheerfully and moved the Dovetails to the edge of town.
The house the Dovetails were swapped small, gloomy, and right next to the cemetery. The only good aspect is that Mr. Dovetail and Daisy can see Mrs. Dovetail's grave through the window. Bert tries to visit Daisy often, but they cannot play together as much as when they were next door neighbors.
Daisy likes to get dirty helping her dad do carpentry. However, Mrs. Dovetail liked Daisy to wear dresses "like a little lady," so Daisy starts to wear dresses made by her mother every day. A year passes, and Daisy outgrows the dresses her mother made her. Everyone else seems to forget about Mrs. Dovetail's death, but Daisy still thinks about her every day.
Chapter 6: The Fight in the Courtyard
After school, the children of the king's servants would play in the courtyard behind the palace. The children would always cheer when the king came onto the balcony waved, and they would always go quiet when Lord Spittleworth and Lord Flapoon passed by since the two lords hated noisy children.
One day, Daisy and Bert are playing with the other children when one little girl says "I do hope the king waves at us today!" Daisy responds "Well, I don't," which causes the other children to gasp and glare at her. Daisy, who feels embarrassed and angry, says that if the king hadn't made her mother work so hard, she would still be alive. She also calls the king "selfish, vain, and cruel". Bert tells Daisy not to be silly, which makes Daisy even more mad. Daisy slaps Bert on the face, and the two start to fight as the other children egg them on.
Bert's father runs out of his house and separates the two children. Lord Spittleworth walks by just as the children are pulled apart, and he thinks to himself that "he might have found a way to banish children" from the palace courtyard.
Chapter 7: Lord Spittleworth Tells Tales
Lord Spittleworth and Lord Flapoon are eating a large dinner with King Fred as usual. As the meal comes to an end, Lord Spittleworth brings up the fight between Bert and Daisy in the courtyard earlier that day. At first King Fred says that children fighting is normal, but he becomes disturbed when the lords say that what Daisy said was treasonous. The lords tell King Fred that Major Beamish would be able to report exactly what happened since he was the one who separated the children. King Fred orders Major Beamish to be summoned.
Major Beamish rushes to the palace. King Fred asks him to report exactly what Daisy said, which Major Beamish doesn't want to do since he knows Daisy was only angry and sad about her mother's death. However, he knows that if he doesn't tell the king, somebody else will, and he will be seen as a traitor as well. He tells the king what Daisy said and then quickly leaves the palace.
JK Rowling uses foreshadowing and cliff hangers throughout the first chapters of The Ickabog to create suspense and curiosity in readers that will keep them coming back for more. Since The Ickabog was originally published in a serialized fashion, with between one and three chapters published to the website per day, Rowling must make readers curious about what will happen next in the story so that they will want to continue reading the next installment. One such example of Rowling using foreshadowing and a cliff hanger is at the end of Chapter 2 when she ends the chapter with, “They lived in the happiest kingdom in the world. What harm could the Ickabog do?” This makes readers, particularly young readers, wonder whether The Ickabog will appear and cause problems in the next chapters that are posted.
Rowling's story, though it is written for young children, contains sophisticated social commentary about politics and social norms in the 2010's. King Fred and his best friends are depicted as entitled and misogynistic. For example, Rowling writes that King Fred decides not to marry Lady Eslanda because she is too "serious and bookish for the country to love her as a queen." This attitude parallels many male political and business figures who have been called out in the 2010's for inappropriate behavior towards women, dangerous use of their power, and views of women as merely attractive objects rather than equal individuals.
Another type of social commentary introduced early in The Ickabog concerns socioeconomic status. Rowling writes that The Marshlands was a barren area of Cornucopia, with "thin dry grass, only good enough to feed a few mangy sheep." Since these sheep are undernourished, the Marshlanders cannot make much money off of selling them. This leads to the Marshlanders also being undernourished, dirty, and angry at their situation. Rather than seeing that their socioeconomic situation leads them to their lack of cleanliness and feelings of anger, people who live in wealthier parts of Cornucopia seem to think that Marshlanders are inherently "dirty" and "surly." They are even made fun of for their voices and "simplicity." This social commentary shows that Rowling acknowledges that many people who are made fun of in the 2010's for their appearances, behaviors, and accents are actually victims of a lack of financial support from their governments and social support from their fellow citizens.
King Fred's title "the Fearless" is ironic, and actually calls attention to his lack of bravery. King Fred gives himself this name because he once killed a wasp with a good deal of help from his servants. This already makes him look like a buffoon, since the action of killing a wasp does not take that much bravery. King Fred is shown to be even more cowardly when he orders the Dovetails to be moved out of their home because he doesn't want to think about Mrs. Dovetail's death anymore. He seems to believe the common phrases "out of sight, out of mind" and "ignorance is bliss," but he soon finds out that he cannot ignore what happened to Mrs. Dovetail forever.
In contrast to King Fred, the character who is shown to be truly brave is Daisy Dovetail. Even though many of King Fred's servants think that he caused Mrs. Dovetail's death, they are afraid to say anything. Daisy, who is only seven years old, is the one to stand up and say King Fred is "selfish, vain, and cruel!" Since she is so young, she does not think as much about what she will lose by saying this statement. In fact, she may not think she has much left to lose, since she has already lost her mother and been moved from the home she grew up in.