________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 8 . . . . October 25, 2013


Death of a King.

Andrew H. Vanderwal.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2013.
279 pp., hardcover & ebook, $21.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-77049-398-8 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77049-399-5 (ebook).

Subject Heading:
Scotland-History-Wallace's Rising, 1297-1304-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4



Willie and Alan dashed around several street corners, hustling Alex along between them. As they descended into the seedy part of the town's waterfront, the alleyways grew narrower. Second-storey balconies closed in over top, leaving only small gaps for dirty light to filter through the lines of drying laundry and tattered awnings. A stench rose up from the gutters.

It was not yet dark, and there were lots of people about. A bent old woman dressed in rags held her hand out for money, plucking at their clothes as they passed. Intoxicated sailors sang boisterously as they staggered down alleys with locked arms, bouncing off walls and laughing when one of their comrades fell.

Pretending they too had drunk too much, Alan and Willie slowed their pace and lurched from side to side, Alex still between them.

"No one must notice us," Alan muttered under his breath. "Once Earl Warenne finds out we're not at the Douglas house, he'll have his men fan out across town, questioning people especially down here. In fact, that might be them already."

Several men on horseback clopped past the end of the narrow alley, their heads turning as if searching for something. Alan pulled Alex down several steps into a sunken stairwell, where they pressed into the shadows.

Willie ventured a glance down the alley. The men had kicked their horses into a run in the opposite direction. "They're chasing after some scruffy kid," he whispered. "Let's go!"

They hurried through a maze of alleys until they reached a tavern, a babble of voices and languages spilling out its open windows and doors.

Alan checked all around and then directed the group into a neighbouring alley. He rapped on a side door. "It's us," he hissed. "Open up."

A latch clicked, and the trio spilled through the door into a dark stairwell.

King Alexander of Scotland dies unexpectedly in 1286 and leaves no heir to his throne, thus throwing the entire country into chaos. English armies are trying to take advantage of this situation, pushing northward to invade Scotland. William Wallace is a mainstay of the Scottish army and has risen to become the guardian of Scotland. Time travellers Alex and his friends find themselves in the midst of this upheaval because Alex is determined to find out how his parents mysteriously disappeared and if he has arrived in time to save them from certain death.

      Andrew H. Vanderwal has created another sensational historical action adventure/fantasy which will appeal to both boys and girls alike. Typical of most fantasy novels, the book is plot driven with plenty of blood, battles and suspense on every page. The historical background is accurate and provides a backdrop which Vanderwal brings to life for his readers. We see war-torn Scotland, smell the dirt of the jail cells, taste the slimy slugs that the heroes must eat to stay alive, and hear the clash of swords and the pounding hooves of the horses in battle. The thirteenth century seems very real indeed!

      Because Alex is a 13-year-old boy who normally lives in modern times, his expertise with riding horses and shooting a crossbow is perhaps somewhat exaggerated. But who cares? Within the time travel and fantasy of the story, he seems quite believable. In fact, the book is reminiscent of a video game where the brave and seemingly untouchable hero is able to pursue his quest and be victorious. There are battles, shipwrecks, imprisonment and all manner of other disasters, and Alex and his motley crew of friends are endangered throughout much of the book, yet they somehow are able to prevail. Because the novel depends so much on a fast-paced plot, the characters are not described in detail. Alex and his friends battle against an interesting backdrop of monks, friars, nobles, soldiers, outlaws and ordinary Scottish citizens.

      Tweens and young teens will enjoy the excitement as the characters evade all manner of plots against them and eventually are able to rescue Alex's parents as hoped. However just at the end, Alex's father does not travel back to the modern age, leaving readers the possibility that perhaps another novel will come along to answer that and other questions.

      Vanderwal has certainly done his research and includes a list of historical characters at the end of the novel. Students who are particularly interested in Scottish history may want to pursue some of their favourites in order to find out how the country moved from the chaos of the thirteenth century to the modern nation it is today.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

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

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