________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 11 . . . . January 25, 2008


The Siege: Under Attack in Renaissance Europe.

Stephen Shapiro. Illustrated by John Mantha.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2007.
56 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-107-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-108-2 (hc.).

Subject Headings:             
Siege warfare-Europe-History-16th century-Juvenile literature.
Sieges-Netherlands-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

*** /4


The general had paid a high price for the guns: his artillery train had cost as much as the rest of his army combined. He had paid for hundreds of men and horses to move the guns and the enormous piles of cannonballs and gunpowder they were consuming- more than 1,000 cannonballs for each gun. His wall-smashing 24-pounders used a half ton of gunpowder for every 40 shots, and each shot cost as much as a soldier’s monthly pay. The general had written to the Prince of Parma for more money, and he still worried that the cost of firing his cannons might bankrupt him. Still, it was better to spend gunpowder than lose men, since sickness was beginning to gnaw away at his army.

Written by an avid military history buff, this 24-chapter book is a work of fiction based on real events that took place in the late 16th century. In the imaginary town of Berkdorp in Holland, word has been received that the Spanish army is approaching. With little time to prepare for what might be a long siege, the Dutch people quickly stockpile food and clear all the lands outside the town in order to catch sight of the enemy. So begins a tale, from both sides’ perspectives, of the many battles and hardships endured by the soldiers and the townsfolk. Featured in the book are the events leading up to the Dutch revolt, the key players, the treatment of soldiers, ranks within the army, weapons, digging trenches, building fortifications, sorties, and life in a military camp. Readers will learn about the hard labour and terrible living conditions of the soldiers- no uniforms, low pay, and living in camps that were rampant with diseases, including typhus, smallpox, dysentery and typhoid, due to poor hygiene methods. One can only imagine the difficulty of providing food and shelter for a “walking city” of 27,000 troops. There is information about the technological changes which resulted in new forms of weaponry. Some examples of the weapons used at the time are the pike, musket, arquebus, cannon, sword, dagger and several types of handguns. Also highlighted is the decline in the morale and the daily lifestyle of the townspeople who had to resort to eating horsemeat and turnips and often didn’t report a death in the family so that they could continue to get the deceased’s food rations.
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     The text is printed on ochre-coloured paper, mimicking old parchment, to give it an authentic look. A timeline, showing one year in monthly increments, indicates the framework in which each event takes place. Instead of a single page glossary, new vocabulary, written in script, is listed on the right-facing page where appropriate. An index is also included along with an author’s afterword and a list of suggested reading for further information.

     Detailed illustrations consist of maps, diagrams and drawings rendered in mixed media (likely watercolour and pen and ink). These greatly enhance the text and add to the book’s historical authenticity.

     Though the book is well researched, due to its subject matter, it has a limited audience.


Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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