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Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Very piratical. And romantical.

Not really bloody. Or violent. Well, not very. I mean, there are pirates. But Captain Peter Blood (that’s his real name) is a gentleman pirate. He only kills bad guys. And a lot of the really bad, violent stuff occurs off-stage, so to speak. Captain Blood reminds me of Captain Jack Sparrow, sort of quirky and not always trustworthy. He lives by his own code of honor and morality, and it’s not exactly the traditional one of his time and culture. Still, Captain Blood sees himself, and others mostly see him, as a gentleman, forced into piracy by circumstances beyond his control and trying to make the best of it.

The story begins in England, 1685. (You can read an article with detailed historical background to the novel here.) Peter Blood is a “bachelor of medicine and several other things besides.” He becomes inadvertently involved in the Monmouth Rebellion against King James II of England. Although he is innocent, guilty only of sheltering and assisting medically one of the fleeing rebels, Blood is convicted of treason, and in lieu of a sentence of execution, he is sent to Barbados as a slave. Eventually after years of captivity, Peter Blood escapes from his master in Barbados, but since he is an outlaw and an escaped slave with a price on his head, he has little choice but to become a buccaneer, or privateer, or in common parlance, a pirate.

Some of the events in Peter Blood’s career as a pirate sound very similar to the exploits of the actual pirate Henry Morgan, fictionalized in John and Patricia Beatty’s book, Pirate Royal. Sabatini explains this similarity in his book by saying that Captain Morgan’s biographer, Esquemeling, must have read the ship’s log of Captain BLood’s ship. “Esquemeling must have obtained access to these records, and he plucked from them the brilliant feathers of several exploits to stick them into the tale of his own hero, Captain Morgan. I mention it chiefly as a warning, for when presently I come to relate the affair of Maracaybo, those of you who have read Esquemeling may be in danger of supposing that Henry Morgan really performed those things which are veraciously attributed to Peter Blood.”

So, Captain Blood, the epitome of the pirate adventure story, published in 1922, is a good bet to recommend to teens and adults looking for pirate books. The Sea Hawk is another pirate story from the pen of the prolific Sabatini. Both of these novels were adapted into movies by the Hollywood film machine of the 1920’s and 1930’s, twice each, first as silent films and again as “talkies”, the latter starring the swashbuckling film hero, Errol Flynn.

The Hornet’s Nest by Sally Watson

In 1773, Ronald Cameron and his sister Lauchlin are busily waging their own private war against the oppressive Sassenach (English soldiers) as the two young Highlanders work and play around their Scottish home. Their parents fought the English invaders and supported the Stuart King Jamie and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Now Ronald and Laughlin believe it is their turn to carry on the struggle, especially when their elderly cousin Matthew from Virginia comes to visit and encourages their rebellion and love for liberty. However, when the sister and brother team get into real trouble with the occupation forces, their parents have no choice but to send them to Virginia to stay with their loyalist aunt, Lavinia Lennox.

The characters in Sally Watson’s Family Tree Series are all a part of the same family, the Lennoxes, and Cousin Matthew in this book is even studying his family genealogy. So there’s a running thread of family heritage and pugnacious, spunky traits that are handed down through the family, especially among the girls. The other books in the series are Linnet (London, 1582), Mistress Malapert (Shakespearean England, 1599), The Outrageous Oriel (English civil war, 1641), Loyal and the Dragon (English civil war, 1642), Witch of the Glens (Scotland, 1644), Lark (Puritan England, 1651), Highland Rebel (Jacobite revolution, 1745), and Jade (pirates in Colonial Virginia and the Caribbean). Read more here about how Ms. Watson’s books and characters are all related to each other.

I read at least some of these books when I was a kid of a girl, and I loved them then, especially Jade, the story of Melanie Lennox who frees a cargo of slaves headed for Virginia and becomes a pirate queen. The only ones of Ms. Watson’s books that I own are The Hornet’s Nest and Lark. But if any of you have any of her books lying around gathering dust, I would be happy to take them off your hands.

Characteristics of Ms. Watson’s heroines: outspokenness, a passion for justice, courage, over-confidence to the point of foolhardiness. These rather willful girls, mostly girls, make for interesting, exciting, adventurous stories, and of course, that’s the best kind. If you run across any of Ms. Watson’s novels for young people, I recommend them—even the ones I haven’t read yet.

The Fisherman’s Lady by George MacDonald

This book is half of George MacDonald’s novel, Malcolm, as edited by Michael R. Phillips, prolific author of Christian novels. The story is continued in another Phillips-edited novel, The Marquis’ Secret.

The Scots dialect and the didactic passages are heavy going for modern readers, so Phillips tried to make the romance novels that MacDonald wrote a bit more accessible. And he was quite successful in this necessary endeavor; at least it was necessary for me. Take a look at the following few lines from the beginning of MacDonald’s original 1823 book, Malcolm:

“Na, na; I hae nae feelin’s, I’m thankfu’ to say. I never kent ony guid come o’ them. They’re a terrible sicht i’ the gait.”
“Naebody ever thoucht o’ layin’ ‘t to yer chairge, mem.”
“‘Deed, I aye had eneuch adu to du the thing I had to du, no to say the thing ‘at naebody wad du but mysel’. I hae had nae leisur’ for feelin’s an’ that,” insisted Miss Horn.
But here a heavy step descending the stair just outside the room attracted her attention, and checking the flow of her speech perforce, with three ungainly strides she reached the landing.
“Watty Witherspail! Watty!” she called after the footsteps down the stair.
“Yes, mem,” answered a gruff voice from below.
“Watty, whan ye fess the bit boxie, jist pit a hemmer an’ a puckle nails i’ your pooch to men’ the hen hoose door. The tane maun be atten’t till as weel’s the tither.”

If you get more than the gist of that dialogue, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. A whole book’s worth of deciphering that speech would be be a mighty task indeed.

Phillips begins with some description of the setting and the situation of the characters, and then he has Miss Horn say, “No, no. I’ve got no feelings, I’m thankful to say. I never knew any good to come to them.” Got it: Miss Horn prides herself upon having no feelings.

So, if you want to read the original, have at it; it’s available online at Project Gutenberg and probably elsewhere, too.. I’ll stick with the Phillips version, which has enough dialect and Scots flavor to keep me satisfied without confusing the reading too much.

Malcolm McPhail is a handsome and gentlemanly young fisherman with a mysterious past. Lady Florimel is the daughter of the present marquis, Lord Colonsay of Lossie. Duncan McPhail is a blind bagpiper and grandfather to Malcolm. As the story begins, a certain Lady Grizel has just died, and the Marquis is returning to his home near Portlossie on the Scottish coast where Malcom and his grandfather make their home.

I did think that some of the plot elements of MacDonald’s story were a little far-fetched, but then he was writing at about the same time as Dickens and the other Victorian novelists, and I don’t suppose MacDonald’s plot is any more unbelievable than some of Dickens’. (Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton practically twins? Oliver Twist just happens upon his long lost family in the middle of London?)

The Fisherman’s Lady ends with the death of one character and the revelation of a long-held family secret, but there is no real resolution to the dilemma of how to reconcile Malcolm’s fine and gentleman-like character with his lowly situation and class. The citizens of Scotland and England in the early nineteenth century were even more class conscious than those of early twentieth century Downton Abbey, and there’s wide, wide gulf between Malcolm the fisherman and the Lady Florimel. It remains to be seen, in The Marquis’ Secret, whether the author George MacDonald can bridge that gap with the revelation of secrets of parentage or the preaching of sermons about the equal standing of mankind before God.

The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber

First in a series, “A Lady Darby Mystery”, The Anatomist’s Wife takes place in Scotland, 1830. Lady Kiera Darby is a young woman, recently widowed and involved in a scandal related to her late doctor husband’s anatomical studies. As the story opens, Kiera has taken refuge with her sister’s family on their estate in Scotland, away from the vicious gossip of Edinburgh and London society.

Unfortunately for Lady Darby, when Lady Godwin is murdered (within the first few pages of the novel), Lady Darby is asked to assist Mr. Sebastian Gage in his inquiry into the crime. Not only is Mr. Gage a rake and perhaps somewhat brainless, he also may, like everyone else in the house party, suspect Kiera Darby of having some culpability in the murder. After all, Kiera’s reputation is still in shreds after her husband’s death and subsequent revelations about his work with dissecting dead bodies and having his wife draw them.(!)

There wasn’t really much Scottish atmosphere to be found in this mystery novel. The occupants of the manor call upon the services of a “procurator fiscal” rather than a coroner in the wake of the murder, and Kiera’s brother-in-law, Philip, lapses into Scots dialect a couple of times under stress. Other that that, the events in the novel could have taken place anywhere in England or Scotland or even Ireland or the continent without much change in the descriptions or the plot.

The post-Regency and pre-Victorian time period of the novel, makes it an interesting mix between what I think of as Regency promiscuity and profligacy and Victorian propriety and conventionality. The society women are appalled at Kiera’s history of having helped her husband in his study of human anatomy. And yet, these same ladies seem to be quite athletic in their pursuit of other women’s husbands. This moral schizophrenia affects the men, too, as when Gage explains to Keira that he is a rake, but certainly not a rogue: “I assure you, my lady, that were you closeted with a rogue rather than a rake, you would know the difference. If a rogue decided he wanted you, he would use all of the means at his disposal to persuade you, but ultimately he would debauch you whether you wished it or not. A rake would never dishonor a woman in such a way.” (In other words, he may be an adulterer and a cad, but at least he’s not a rapist.)

I found the ending to the book and the solution to the whodunnit rather unsatisfactory. The murderer turns out to be insane, with quite a thin motive for his or her actions. And those actions progress from a bloody and violent beginning to an even more brutal and murderous ending.So, finally, although it was good enough to keep me turning the pages, I found only few things to like about this mystery and many others to dislike: too much romance, not enough mystery, too much insanity, not enough sense, too much sexual immorality, not enough virtue, and too much generic setting, not enough Scotland. Fans of Georgette Heyer or other Regency/Victorian romance/mystery writers may enjoy this one more than I did. It wasn’t awful, just not what I was looking for.

If you want to do some more research in the area of Scottish mysteries or post-Regency era mysteries:

Rachel Knowles: When Is the Regency era?
Cozy Mystery Books with a Scottish Theme.
Books in Scotland: a resource for information on all the best in Scottish Books and Writers.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea is a novel of historical fiction set before, during and after the Jacobite attempted restoration in 1715 of James III of England and James VIII of Scotland, the Pretender, to the throne of Scotland, recently merged with, or sold to, the English government, much to the dismay of some Scots. A twenty-first century author, Carrie McClelland, is writing a book about Sophia Paterson, an 18th century ancestress of hers who lived during the Jacobite uprising. Both women find romance as their memories become intertwined.

What I liked:

Set in Scotland. What’s not to like about Scotland? Oh, if only all men were born with a Scots accent. But then I suppose it wouldn’t be so appealing, just normal.

The historical information. Granted there’s a lot of telling. Instead of having the characters in the thick of the action as James Stuart, the Pretender, tries to reclaim the throne of Scotland and England from his sister Anne, they are mostly on the sidelines. Watching and waiting are the occupations of the 18th century heroine, Sophia, and researching and channeling dead voices take up almost all of the days and nights of the author, Carrie McClelland, who is writing about Sophia and her adventures. Nevertheless, there’s a great deal of history in the book, and I liked that aspect.

The genealogy angle. The two intertwined stories that make up this romance novel are all about history and the main present day character’s genealogy. In fact, Sophia and others in the past turn out to be related to the author, Carrie, who is writing a historical novel. Yes, it gets a tad confusing, just as real genealogical research does, but I enjoyed all the who’s-related-to-whom stuff.

What I disliked:

Bed before wed. As in most romance novels (and movies) of the twenty-first century variety, the author/heroine and her hero/love interest are abed together before the ink can dry on the page telling of their mutual attraction. I find this disheartening, but at least the reader is spared a graphic description of their sexual adventures. This issue is one major reason I do not read romance novels, not even historical romance novels which might appeal to me because of the history. The historical pair are sorta, kinda married before they engage in marital relations, but only just barely. At least there’s a commitment between the two.

Male possessiveness. Both of the male leads tell their respective inamoratas: “you were mine from the moment I met you”, or something to that effect. And both are fond giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed, even though Carrie, at least, is described as an “independent woman.” I didn’t like the possessiveness that Grant and Moray exhibited.

Florid writing. Romances tend toward purple prose, which is another reason I don’t usually care for them. Here’s a mild example from this novel, chosen at random: “For that swirling moment, all she felt was him—his warmth, his touch, his strength, and when he raised his head she rocked towards him, helplessly off balance.”

So, you can probably judge from all that to-and-fro whether or not this historical fiction novel is for you. If so, enjoy. If not, but you still want some 18th century England/Scotland setting historical fiction, try:

The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. by William Makepeace Thackeray. 1691-1718. England.
Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott. 1715-1719. Scotland and England.
Devil Water by Anya Seton. 1715-17??. England and America.
The Sound of Coaches by Leon Garfield. England.
Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket by Leon Garfield. England.
Waverley by Sir Walter Scott. 1745. Scotland.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. 1750’s. Scotland.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. 1750’s. England and the ocean-sea.
Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. 1789. South Seas.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forrester. 1793.

Or, if you just want something set in Scotland, I can recommend:

Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.
44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith.
The 39 Steps by John Buchan.
Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter.
Mrs. Tim Gets a Job by D.E. Stevenson.
The King’s Swift Rider by Mollie Hunter.
Immortal Queen by Elizabeth Byrd.
The Iron Lance by Stephen Lawhead.
The Fields of Bannockburn by Donna Fletcher Crow.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon

The first book I read in 2015 was Jan Karon’s Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, in which Dooley and Lace finally become engaged to be married. My first book of 2016 was Come Rain or Come Shine, the story of Dooley’s and Lace’s wedding. And to top that bit of serendipity off, we celebrated our own family wedding on January 2, 2016 when my beautiful Dancer Daughter married her loving groom, The Beast (nickname given in all respect as appropriate nomenclature).

If you don’t know who Dooley and Lace are, you should hie yourself immediately to a library or bookstore and pick up the first of Jan Karon’s Mitford books, At Home in Mitford. You have a feast ahead of you. Come back when you’ve finished book #12, and I’ll whet your appetite, if it needs any whetting, for a book about a not-so-fairy-tale, but still very happy, wedding.

Come Rain or Come Shine is the 13th book in the series, and it’s a very satisfying read, especially for a mom who is still recovering from marrying off her first child to be married. (Only seven more to go.) There are lots of secrets and glitches and interruptions and surprises, including a very unexpected guest who crashes the wedding, but they do get married. Dooley and Lace become Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“He and Lace and everybody else had done all in their power to keep it simple. They made their own invitations, saved a ton by not having a caterer or a tuxedo rental or an over-the-top bride’s dress to drag around in the chicken manure. What happened to their laid-back country wedding where people could chill out, relax, no problem? Okay, so maybe there was no such thing as a laid-back wedding, no matter how hard you tried.”

Our family motto, decided today:
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12.

“He had prayed in cathedrals and at the bedsides of two or three bishops, but never with more to give thanks for than this day, in this generous place where they were celebrating a marriage, a child, a new home, family ties, a new business, the completion of academic studies, and of course, all those further, though often unseen, blessings bestowed by Almighty God made known through Jesus Christ. . . ‘Almighty God.” He cleared his throat, concerned that he may choke up. Then again, how could he not?”

“Love, cherish, honor, keep. A handful! Honey Herschel hoped these kids had thought it over carefully, but even if they had, they would still not have a clue. You never had a clue about anything till it happened and you learned the truth about yourself.”

“We might say that a good marriage is a contest of generosities. How wonderful that it’s possible to ensure our own happiness by seeking the happiness of another. Is it our job to make the beloved happy? It is not. The other person always has a choice. It is our job to generously outdo, no matter what, and discover that the prize in this contest of generosity is more love.”

I’m gonna love you, like nobody’s loved you
Come rain or come shine
High as a mountain, deep as a river
Come rain or come shine
I guess when you met me
It was just one of those things
But don’t you ever bet me
‘Cause I’m gonna be true if you let me
You’re gonna love me, like nobody’s loved me
Come rain or come shine
We’ll be happy together, unhappy together
Now won’t that be just fine
The days may be cloudy or sunny
We’re in or out of the money
But I’m with you always
I’m with you rain or shine.

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

This take-off on the story of Tam Lin and the Fair Folk is an oldie-but-goodie that deserves to be revived. Since fairy tale and folk tale retellings are so popular these days, young adult fans of authors Donna Jo Napoli, Jessica Day George, Robin McKinley, and Shannon Hale should check out this combination of folklore and historical fiction. Ms. Pope’s excellent novel won a Newbery Honor in 1975, an honor it richly deserved.

The story takes place at the end of the reign of Queen Mary I, aka “Bloody Mary.” Kate and her impulsive, lovable sister Alicia are ladies-in-waiting to the Princess Elizabeth, in exile from court at the drafty manor of Hatfield. When Alicia sends a letter of complaint to the Queen, Kate gets the blame, and she is banished to a manor house called The Perilous Gard in Derbyshire to live out her days in disgrace and under close guard. There, Kate meets the master of the castle/manor, Sir Geoffrey Heron and his strange, silent younger brother, Christopher. She also meets a strange lady dressed in green and hears many odd stories about the Elvenwood that surrounds Perilous Gard as well as the nearby Holy Well that draws pilgrims from near and far in search of healing and comfort.

I was especially intrigued by the hints and uses of Christian truth in this fantasy novel. (It does turn into a fantasy novel, as Kate encounters the reality of the Fairies who are behind all the stories she hears about strange, pagan rituals and kidnappings that have characterized Elvenwood.) The central conflict in the novel is between Paganism and the Fair Folk’s thirst for magical power and the Christian ideals of love and service and simple living. There is also a conflict within Kate herself as she sees herself as clumsy, unlovely and unlovable, but learns to see herself in a new light, giving herself in selfless service to another. The book is not overtly Christian or preachy, but in one conversation between Kate and the Lady in Green (queen of the Fair Folk), Kate actually puts into words some of the truths of the gospel in a rather compelling and interesting way:

Lady in Green: “I will not deny that your Lord paid the teind (ransom), nor that it would be good to have had some part in it, for He was a strong man, and born of a race of kings, and His tend must have been a very great one. But that was long ago, long ago in his own time and place. It’s strength is spent now. The power has gone out of it.

Kate: “It has never gone out of it. All power comes from life, as you said yourself, but the life that was in Him came from the God who is above all the gods; and that is a life that knows nothing of places and times. I–I mean, that with us there is time past and time present and time future, and with your gods perhaps there is time forever; but God in Himself has the whole of it, all times at once. It would be true to say that He came into our world and died here, in a time and a place; but it would also be true to say that in His eternity it is always That Place and That Time–here–and at this moment–and the power He had then, He can give to us now, as much as He did to those who saw and touched Him when He was alive on earth.

Granted, the Fairy Lady doesn’t really understand Kate’s gospel presentation, but I thought it was quite well put, and it fits in well with the imagery and the tension between paganism and Christianity that threads through the novel. I loved this story, and I think fairy tale fans would love it, too. A touch of romance, a bit of danger, and a coming of age motif combine to make The Perilous Gard a great read for older teens and adults both. I’d say it’s PG-12 or 13, only because it has some pretty intense descriptions of pagan sacrifice and Halloween evil, nothing nasty or sexual or graphically violent, though.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

A couple of years ago I made a “bliss list” of 52 subjects that hook me into reading and enjoying a book: everything from community to eccentricity to Winston Churchill. Number 3 on that list was “insanity, mental illness, and mental differences and disabilities. Everything from schizophrenia to autism to deafness and blindness and how those affect perceptions and ideas.”

All the Bright Places certainly taps into that particular fascination, even though Finch, one of our two protagonists, doesn’t like labels and refuses to think of himself as bipolar or mentally ill. Finch refuses to be characterized by his illness, doesn’t believe that he is the “freak” that the other kids call him, but he definitely isn’t quite normal. He thinks about death and suicide nearly 24/7—until he meets Violet Markey at the top of the school bell tower where he talks her down from the ledge. Everyone else thinks it was Violet who talked Theodore Finch, the Freak, down from jumping off the bell tower, but Violet and Finch know the truth. And now Finch is fascinated with Violet, and vice-versa.

I liked the book, sort of. Ms. Niven did a good job of showing the quirky thought processes of boy who, whether he wants to be labeled or not, is dealing with serious mental illness. And I liked the way the book shows that Theo Finch is actually a real person, not defined by his mania or depression, but definitely becoming more and more enslaved to the sickness as the story progresses.

That said, I had issues with some of the plot and characterizations in this book. Theo’s family is a joke. His father is alternately abusive and absent, and his mother is . . . out of touch? She doesn’t feel like a real person. Theodore lives in a closet half the time, and his mother doesn’t do anything at all. He doesn’t sleep, and he goes out running at all hours of the day and night, and mom is oblivious. He disappears, and she still doesn’t do anything. Do these kind of people exist? Maybe, but I don’t get it.

Then there’s the financial aspect of the story. A lot of YA fiction seems to be written by people who are unaware or actively ignoring the financial realities of middle class life. Theo has a car (why?), but no job. I couldn’t see how he managed to pull twenty dollar bills out of his pocket to pay for books, or keep his car gassed up, or buy gallons and gallons of paint, or buy a huge bouquet of flowers for Violet. His dad didn’t seem like the type to chip in any funds, and Theo’s mom worked two part time jobs, one of them at a bookstore. Violet, too, has all the money she needs to eat out, travel around exploring Indiana with Theo, and do anything else she happens to want to do. Violet also has no job. And both Theo and Violet have the excruciating problem of simply deciding which university they want to attend, with no discussion or consideration of cost. This lack of financial limitations seems to be the case in a majority of YA novels. It only matters which university sends you an acceptance letter; money is no object for these basically middle class teens.

Lastly, All the Bright Places almost glamorizes suicide. Yes, we need to be sympathetic and offer help and not stigmatize those are mentally ill or those who are victims of their own suicidal thoughts. However, the other extreme is to make suicide look good, so cute and quirky. Theo is so creative and intelligent. He’s romantic, even in the throes of suicidal compulsions. He’s the only one who understands Violet. He manages to make his bipolar ravings sound like some kind of esoteric wisdom. SPOILER ALERT: Theo dies, but Violet halfway believes that “[p]eople like Theodore Finch don’t die. He’s just wandering.” At the end of the book, Violet writes an epitaph for Theo: “I was alive. I burned brightly. And then I died, but not really. Because someone like me, cannot, will not die like everyone else. I linger like the legends of the Blue Hole.”

I wanted to say, loudly, to whomever might read this book:

Suicide is NOT glamorous.

It hurts (you and other people).

You won’t linger like a legend.

At the end, you really do die.

Warnings: mild language, and of course, obligatory YA sex.

The Faraway Lurs by Harry Behn

Book #3 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
190 pages, 2 hours

First of all, what are lurs? A lur is “a Bronze-Age musical instrument in the form of a conical tube that is roughly S-shaped, without finger holes. It is end blown, like a trumpet, and sounds something like a trombone. Lurs often come in pairs, so they are often referred to in the plural.”

The Faraway Lurs, published in 1963, honored by ALA as a “notable book”, is a book I read back in the day when I was a teen. I didn’t remember much about it, but I did think it was notable in my reading past as a story with a different setting and feel from most historical fiction set in the distant past. Most fiction based on ancient history is either set in Egypt, Palestine, Greece or the Roman Empire. This one has an early Bronze Age setting in Denmark, about 3000 years ago.

The romantic protagonists are Heather Goodshade of the Forest People tribe and Wolf Stone, a young chieftain’s son from the tribe of the invading Sun People. A Romeo and Juliet story ensues, as Heather and Wolf Stone fall in love and try to bring their two very different tribal cultures together in peace so that they can be together as man and wife. Wolf Stone’s people are savage savages, worshippers of the Sun God and very warlike and violent both within the tribe and toward outsiders. Heather’s people are more gentle savages, but still the ending of the book demonstrates that even Heather’s gentle forest tribe is in cruel bondage to the whims of their “gentle” gods, an ancient Tree and a whispering Spring.

Of course, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, and The Faraway Lurs, drawn from the discovery of a burial mound for a young beautiful Stone Age/early Bronze Age girl, ends in tragedy, too, as any reader who read the introduction, where Mr. Behn tells about the discovery that inspired his novel, would know. The girl in the burial mound died young, and so does Heather Goodshade. How that tragic ending comes about is the hook upon which the novel hangs, so I won’t tell you any more.

This book would be good for teens who are studying ancient history, lending to that study a different perspective and a different cultural understanding. The ancient world wasn’t all pharaohs and Roman legions. And it would be to pair the novel with a viewing of Romeo and Juliet and then a comparison of the two stories. There’s nothing sexually explicit in the novel, and the violence is mostly off-stage or described in unobjectionable but straightforward language. The presentation of the tribal cultures themselves would lend itself to a discussion of the need for all humanity in all its tribes and cultures to be redeemed, saved from our propensity toward sin, brutality, and idolatry. Particularly, as I compare Behn’s story with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and with the recent event of the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, I am reminded of how human sin and prejudice is only covered over by civilization with a very thin veneer. Our idols continue to betray us; our desire for both power and safety continues to lead us into sin and tragedy; and our separation from God continues to play out in divisions between the people He created as we do violence to ourselves and to others in futile attempts to heal the breach or destroy the other.

May God have mercy upon us all.

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The Silver Pencil by Alice Dalgliesh

A 1945 Newbery Honor book, The Silver Pencil really isn’t a children’s book at all. It’s more of a young adult fiction book in the tradition of L.M. Montgomery’s sequels to Anne of Green Gables or her Emily of New Moon books, or maybe more like Little Women, the book that The Silver Pencil alludes to and depends upon for its framing device. (The main character, Janet, is a fan of Little Women, and hence of the United States, a country she has never seen until she comes to New York to study in her late teens, except in the pages of Alcott’s inspirational book.)

The Silver Pencil is also quite the autobiographical novel:

“Born October 7, 1893 in Trinidad, British West Indies, to John and Alice (Haynes) Dalgliesh, Alice immigrated to England with her family when she was 13. Six years later she came to America to study kindergarten education at the Pratt Institute in New York City. She eventually received a Bachelor in Education and Master in English Literature from the Teachers College at Columbia University. While she was at school Dalgliesh applied for and received her naturalization as an American citizen. She taught for 17 years at the Horace Mann School, while also leading courses in children’s literature and story writing at Columbia.”

The Silver Pencil‘s protagonist, Janet Laidlaw, also moves from Trinidad to England and then to the United States, to study kindergarten education. She has some health issues and also spends some time recuperating in Nova Scotia, Canada. Janet becomes a kindergarten teacher, but finds that she is better suited to be a writer. She struggles with young adult sorts of issues: finding her vocation, responding to the men who come into her life, deciding in what country her true citizenship should lie. I daresay most young adults don’t need to make the final decision, but they do decide how much of a citizen they will be and what citizenship and civic duty entail.

I liked the book, but it’s not going to appeal to the masses. For teen and twenty-something girls who like stories about bookish and thoughtful young ladies growing up in and earlier time period (again fans of Montgomery’s Emily books, perhaps), The Silver Pencil might be just the thing.