________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 17 . . . . April 18, 2008


The Schooner’s Revenge.

Robert Sutherland.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2008.
170 pp., pbk., $14.99.
ISBN 978-0-00-200853-2.

Grades 5-8 / Ages10-13.
Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4


He sat and worried and wondered what the lookouts on those American ships were doing. Secure in the knowledge that with the destruction of the Nancy their mission had been successfully accomplished, the Americans could be excused if their attention to duty was less than thorough. Perhaps they were listening to the fiddle music coming from the lower deck, only now and then peering into the surrounding darkness, not expecting to see anything. The other ship was out there, not far away. There was nothing else, could be nothing else.

So it all depended on silence.

The flotilla left the river mouth and turned nor’east, keeping as close to the shore as the shelving bottom permitted. One of the ships was out there in that direction, but far enough away that, with luck, they would not be detected. The murmur of disturbed water, the muffled splash of oars, there was nothing else. No one dared speak or cough; they scarcely dared to breathe. They eyed the enemy ships anxiously while they dipped and pulled and lifted. They had to be miles away when dawn came and darkness would no longer hide them.

Robert Sutherland is a talented storyteller and in The Schooner’s Revenge, he lends his storytelling talents to a series of lesser-known episodes from the War of 1812. Situated on the northwestern edge of Lake Huron, Fort Mackinac was strategically important in that it allowed control of the Great Lakes and the vitally important fur trade. “I don’t need to remind you that this fort, this island, must not fall to the Americans,” says Colonel Robert McDouall, one of the many real life historical figures in Sutherland’s novel. “Whoever holds this fort controls the fur trade, and the fur trade is the lifeblood of British North America. If we lose it, we lose the country—it’s that simple.”

     In The Schooner’s Revenge, Sutherland relates the manner in which the British and their allies were successfully able to defend Fort Mackinac. Indeed, not only were the Americans resisted, but, in the process, they also suffered the embarrassing loss of two gunboats, USS Scorpion and USS Tigress.

     Sutherland ensures that, throughout the book, there is enough drama to maintain the interest of his readers. Indeed, there is action from the very beginning. On page four of the novel, the Americans begin their invasion of York, the provincial capital of Upper Canada. Sutherland’s fictional 14-year-old protagonist, Ben Random, finds himself caught in the middle of the drama and violence of the American assault on the city in which he lives.

     Having survived the York assault, Ben soon joins Colonel McDouall and a party of others journeying north, overland from Lake Ontario to the Nottawasaga River. They erect a storehouse so that the schooner, HMS Nancy, can transport supplies across Georgian Bay and Lake Huron to Fort Mackinac. The storehouse and the Nancy, however, are both soon destroyed and Ben and the others engage in a daring alternate plan.

     As is not uncommon in young adult historical fiction, the prominent presence of a boy amidst fighting men is occasionally distracting. Young Ben’s father seems also to be over-willing to allow Ben to be placed in danger. I also find that the opinion of the boy seems a little too highly regarded by Lieutenant Miller Worsely, the commanding officer of HMS Nancy. I am not convinced that someone in Worsely’s position would have cared in the slightest about the opinion of a boy, but I do understand that this is a useful story-telling device to help make history more relevant, relatable and understandable for young readers.

     One hundred and seventy pages in length, The Schooner’s Revenge is divided into 23 short, fast-paced chapters. At the end of the book, Sutherland includes historical notes where he identifies which of his characters are real life historical figures. The Schooner’s Revenge is informative, well-written historical fiction. Middle school boys with an interest in the history of Canada will find the reading experience enjoyable and educational.


Gregory Bryan works at the University of Manitoba. He teaches children’s literature courses in the Faculty of Education.

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

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