For those of you Henty fans, this is a green book. Everyone else needs to know it is set between the 11th and 14th centuries in the British Isles (mainly Scotland, but our hero manages to hit all four portions of the British Empire before the closing credits. All the relevant stuff [both to the storyline and the history we’re supposedly focused on] happens in Scotland, though, so I am assuming that moving around to all the portions of the world that the cover’s color inspires is part of the deal somehow). For the record, I’m not a Henty fan, and this book was playing on tape during a family road trip, which is why I finished it. Henty has a writing style suited to the focused reader, since his diaologe is always drawn out, as are his descriptions of anything war/hunting/fighting related. You have to keep paying attention is nothing going on and still enjoy the fiction and historical story. On tape, its easier for me to keep going, since I can tune out the parts where the obligatory chapter-blank’s-battle-array is being talked about.
PLOT: Hero’s father, one of the Scotish nobility, dies by trickery (hero’s father’s cannot die any other way, since open defeat would be impossible for such a champion as spawned our main character). Hero is raised by a wise, doting Mother who is able to impute the importance of rank and character to her son without actually saying anything that their new lord would disapprove of. Said new lord, our Villian, sides with the English in all their invasions of Scotland. Our Hero grows up, naturally leading the local boys, to the point that they create a “play” army, wherein they fight battles so subtly, quietly, and discreetly, that no one notices when they come home bruised and bloodied (including said wise mother). After much of this secrecy, the world suddenly discovers how great a warrior our hero is when he participates in the first great battle for freedom by the local Scot-Hero. They fight together for a long time, our Hero getting most of the credit most of the time, until Scot-Hero is killed (treacherously), and the English win again for awhile. Our Hero is quite loyal, and he fights for Scotland all over the place (Ireland, England), until Scot-Hero is replaced by Noble-Scot. Noble-Scot actually finishes the fights he starts, which is helpful because we’ve already fought a lot of battles and the Scottish still haven’t gotten anything much out of the deal. Noble-Scot wins one “historic” battle after another, taking down and destroying castles all over the place (so many men have died in the preceding efforts, they can’t man the strongholds, so they destroy them). Finally, Our Hero goes home to peace and contentment with the warrior-princess Bride Of Our Hero (who, despite being the daughter of Villian, earlier proved worthy of Our hero’s love by destroying lots of Villian’s troops and equipment during one of many sieges). Happily Fighting Ever After, The End.
GOOD: Lots of historical detail, and the interesting parts are really interesting. I think it is probably one of the best Henty book’s I’ve read (however, my Henty fan accompaniment says the tapes are abridged). If you want to read one, try this. Its fictional subplots are very well done, and the historical parts are an accurate representation of how the Scots felt at the time.
BAD: As you probably noticed, not alot of the historical detail stayed with me very well. Our Hero’s name, Sir Archibald Forbes, is mentioned so often that it tended to drown out the other people’s names for me. Also, Henty’s style of writing is a love or hate relationship: few people are ambiguous about Henty. I find him infinitely boring, and remember the historical part better from a child’s biography than these. Boys, I am told, enjoy them more than girls, though I would be interested to see a show of hands in the commentary section on that subject. I find the interesting parts (historical events, fictional parts of the story not involving endless praise for Our Hero, etc.) few are far between personally; but if you were into period detail regarding fighting, the man has a boatload of supplies in this book.
OVERALL: It was a good tape, but even so I wouldn’t read the book. If you like dissertations on warfare, fighting, and mechanics, you will probably enjoy this book. If you want to see the political/human/every-day-life/historic-picture part of the era, this is not the book for you. A similar series is Elsie Densimore, and your feelings for that will probably mirror how you like Henty. One caveat to that analogy: I can read a Henty book if I need to study the era and nothing else is handy—Elsie, I can’t stand for more than a chapter. “In Freedom’s Cause” does a good job of covering the time in question, and is fairly interesting in the process.