Day 817: The Hornet’s Nest

Cover for The Hornet's NestIt is 30 years after the Battle of Culloden, but Highland Scots are still forbidden by their English overlords to wear the plaid, play bagpipes, or honor their heritage in other ways. Rebellious Lauchlin MacLeod and her brother Ronald, teenage children of Laird Kildornie, are always finding themselves in trouble.

So it is on the day they meet their cousin Matthew Lennox, a gentleman from Virginia journeying to visit his English and Scottish relatives. Lauchlin is marveling that this Sassenach is related to her family and doesn’t realize he has been escorted there by a troop of redcoats. She just barely avoids being caught wearing a kilt while her brother hides in the bushes with his bagpipe.

In town showing Cousin Matthew the sights, Ronald and Lauchlin attack some boys who are torturing a kitten. Later Sergeant Tucker arrives at their home to tell them that the boys are the children of Captain Green, the new area commander. The boys have lied about the cause of the attack, and Captain Green isn’t as likely as the previous commander to overlook their behavior. The next incident could be serious.

Cousin Matthew has a solution. Lauchlin and Ronald can travel to Virginia and live with his sister Lavinia until things calm down. Secretly, he enlists them to send news and drawings, for Lauchlin is a gifted caricaturist, about doings in the colonies for a paper he is founding in London called The Gadfly.

So, Lauchlin and Ronald set out for the colonies accompanied by their kitten Haggis. They arrive in Williamsburg in 1773, just in time to witness the lead-up to the American Revolution. It’s not too difficult to imagine where their sympathies lie.

This novel effortlessly mixes the viewpoints from both sides of the revolution, for their Lennox relatives are Loyalists, and some are charming characters. Lauchlin is an ebullient scamp, Ronald a boy who must learn that all Sassenachs are not the same. Their many Virginian cousins dislike them at first but then most of them learn to love them. And Haggis has his own distinctive personality.

This novel is one of my favorites so far of the Watson books I’ve newly discovered, because it is less unlikely than some of them and has really enjoyable characters. Plus, it provides an unusual viewpoint of the American Revolution. Young teens and tweens should love this book.

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Day 811: Linnet

Cover for LinnetLinnet is another sprightly Sally Watson novel for tweens and younger teens set in the Elizabethan era. We first meet Linnet Seymour on the road to London. She has run away from her aunt’s house because she never has any adventure, planning to visit some cousins in London whom she doesn’t really know.

Unfortunately, she meets a rascal on the road, calling himself Sir Colin Collyngewood. He offers her a ride to her cousin’s house. A naive girl, she accepts. Instead of taking her to the Seymours, though, he delivers her to a filthy thieving ken to live with a bunch of child pickpockets and cutpurses.

Linnet has a tendency not to learn from experience, so when Colley tells her he wants to use her to trap some Papists in a plot against the Queen, she believes him. In the meantime, Linnet’s cousin Giles is the only person who believes she is missing. His parents think she returned home. Giles goes to London to look for her.

Like some other of Watson’s books, this one is a bit far-fetched and also has some lessons for Linnet about treatment of the poor. Still, it is an enjoyable romp.

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Day 790: Jade

Cover for JadeOf the Sally Watson books I rediscovered, Jade is one I haven’t read before. I’ve mentioned that Watson wrote several of her novels around a person from her own ancestry, but it is not clear to me if the outlines of each story are based on family legend or are just invented around the events of the time. This question becomes of special interest in regard to Jade, which is the least likely of Watson’s books to date, even if part of it is based on history.

Jade’s real name is Melanie Lennox, but she much prefers her old nickname. She is a rebellious girl completely taken up by her own ideas of right and wrong. She is especially incensed by slavery and women’s lack of rights, which makes early 18th century Williamburg an uncomfortable place for her and for her family, who doesn’t know what to do with her.

The last straw for Jade’s father is when he finds she has been sneaking off to meet Monsieur Maupin, an elderly Frenchman, for fencing lessons. Tired of beating her, her father ships her off to Jamaica to live with her aunt and uncle. With her goes her slave Joshua, whom she’s been trying to free since she was 10.

In Jamaica, she is disgusted by the slave market and the treatment of field slaves, so her aunt and uncle are surprised when she wants to buy a proud untamed African woman, whom she names Domino. But Jade sees something in Domino that reminds her of herself. In fact, Jade isn’t really getting along any better in Jamaica, but doesn’t stay there long.

Jade’s aunt and uncle hear of yellow fever on the island, so they dispatch Jade and her two slaves back to Virginia. They return on the same ship they came on, but this time it is loaded with slaves. Jade decides to try to free the slaves, in which effort she doesn’t realize she’s assisted by the sardonic second mate, Rory McDonald (whose grandmother was Kelpie from Witch of the Glen).

I wasn’t quite prepared for what happens next, but maybe I should have been. Their ship is attacked by pirates and she and Rory and some other crew members and the slaves decide to join the pirates. Well, Jade and Rory are taken on board unconscious, but like Elizabeth Swann of Pirates of the Caribbean, Jade at first decides it’s “a pirate’s life for me.” Only later does her view of the life become more nuanced.

The novel’s plot is unlikely, even though it is based on the life of the famous pirate, Anne Bonny (spelled Bonney in the novel), whose ship our characters end up on. And Jade is not strictly likable, her character being so full of self-righteousness and so unbending that she can’t tell a polite lie. Also, the novel tends much more to the preachy than those I’ve read so far of Watson’s.

Still, this novel is probably a good one for insights into the abuses of the time, while still providing plenty of adventure. Little feminists in the making will be sympathetic to the restrictions Jade struggles with, such as her dislike of what she must wear, her lack of rights as a woman, and the limits to what she’s allowed to do. I personally think she’s too much of a 20th century girl, but young girls won’t even think of that.

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Day 765: Mistress Malapert

Cover for Mistress MalapertMistress Malapert was my favorite of Sally Watson’s books years ago, the rediscovery of which I discussed in my review of Lark. The only thing that might keep it from still being my favorite is its attempt at Elizabethan English, not entirely convincing although not horrible, even used sometimes in the narrative parts of the book. Watson in her updated notes at the end of the book says she wishes she hadn’t used so much of it but that she was inexperienced as it was her second book. Still, as a young reader, it clearly didn’t bother me. I’m not even sure I noticed it.

Valerie Leigh has been raised for years by her wealthy, childless aunt and uncle, who have given her everything she asks for. Now she is back with her own family, and they don’t know what to do with her. At fourteen, she has a nasty temper that appears whenever she doesn’t get what she wants. Her temper is over quickly and she always sincerely apologizes, but that doesn’t stop her from behaving in a truly outrageous manner when she is angry.

When Valerie’s parents are dispatched by her mother’s distant cousin, Queen Elizabeth, on a foreign embassy, they leave Valerie and her sister Audrey in the care of their stern Uncle Gil, who is determined to tame Valerie. Of course, she isn’t going to put up with much of this.

At a fair, she is fascinated by a troupe of players, especially the boy who plays the part of the princess. She decides it is unfair that girls aren’t allowed to act. Later, when Uncle Gil punishes her for fighting, she decides to run away. She disguises herself as a boy and runs off to join the traveling players, a plot straight from Shakespeare.

Val finds she has a talent for the stage, but her adventures on the stage aren’t all this novel is about. Slowly, she learns some lessons about her responsibilities to the other players and about the kind of person she really wants to be. To be that person, she must learn to control her temper and think of others.

I found this book quite enjoyable and think that many preteens and young teens might like it as well. Val has the opportunity to meet Shakespeare and even Queen Elizabeth by the end of the novel, and although I am not generally fond of historical novels where the main, invented character somehow meets lots of famous people, in this novel it seemed perfectly reasonable. And by the way, I recently criticized the depiction by another writer of Shakespeare’s dialogue in her book for its lack of playfulness. When Val meets Shakespeare, his response is a little clumsy, but much more what I would expect:

Here be a valiant Val to have with us for a valediction. Be you a valid Valentine? Can ye play a valet? Put down your valise, valiant Val, and be you proved valuable, we’ll keep you till you be valanced with a white beard.

Don’t worry, it’s not all like this.

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Day 742: Witch of the Glens

Cover for Witch of the GlensKelpie is about fourteen or fifteen and only remembers a gypsy life traveling with Mina and Bogle. They use her to steal and read the crystal, for she has second sight. Mina keeps promising to teach her witchcraft without actually showing her any. Still, they are often accused of being witches and hounded out of town.

Then one day she pretends to fall in front of a party of young men only to find she has actually injured herself. Although they catch her stealing from them, they are amused by her and take her home with them. The young men are Ian, Cameron, and Alex, returning from Oxford to their home north of Inverlochy.

Kelpie stays at Glenfern with Ian’s family, eventually as a servant, but they treat her kindly. She begins to feel affection for the children, especially little Mairie, and is dismayed when Mina and Bogle reappear. Mina threatens to curse the family if Kelpie refuses to come with them, and since Kelpie believes in Mina’s power, she goes.

The Highlands are in turmoil because Argyll has been commissioned to secure the area for the Calvinist Covenant against King Charles. Argyll’s troops are more prone to burn villages and murder innocents than to fight armies. But Montrose is trying to raise men to fight for the king. Mina sends Kelpie on a perilous task, to steal some hair or a personal possession from Argyll so he can be hexed.

Kelpie’s adventures take her all over the Highlands. When she joins the followers of Montrose’s army, she is happy to meet Ian and Alex again, but she has seen Alex strike Ian down in the crystal, so she is wary of him.

This is an enjoyable novel for tweens and teens full of likable characters and nasty villains, some history, lots of adventure, and another feisty Watson heroine. Kelpie begins re-evaluating her moral choices through the examples of others and the kindnesses she receives during her travels.

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Day 715: Lark

Cover for LarkJust an aside to start. When I was in high school, I had a job at the public library. There I discovered lots of authors I may not have come across elsewhere, and one of them was a writer of books for teens and preteens who specialized in historical novels featuring likable, feisty heroines. I read every one the library had.

Years later, I would try to remember who this author was to see if I could find some of her books and discover whether I still liked them as much. But all I could remember was she had a relatively common name that started with W. I searched Amazon for children’s books with authors beginning with a W. There are a lot of them. Then one day just awhile ago, a word popped into my head, “Lark.” A Google query accomplished the rest. I found a wonderful page on a site specializing in children’s books called “Stump the Bookseller” where you could ask exactly that kind of question, and more than one person asking about the author of a historical novel with a character named Lark. The author was Sally Watson. A little more searching found she is back in print.

* * *

Elizabeth Lennox has not been called by her nickname of Lark since her Uncle Jeremiah came and took her away from her family. He always thought she would make a good wife for her cousin Will-of-God if she was just raised correctly. Since he is one of Oliver Cromwell’s officers and Lark’s father was away fighting with the Royalists, he could do what he wanted. So, he took Lark away and she has been living miserably in a Puritan household ever since. She has no desire to marry Will-of-God, whom she dislikes. She deliberately tries to appear young so that her uncle won’t realize how close she is to being marriageable.

Lark has had nowhere else to go, since her family had to leave for the continent after their property was confiscated. But one day she receives word from her sister up in Scotland, so she decides to go there, not realizing how far away the Highlands are from southern England. She sneaks out of the house in the middle of the night and sets off.

James Trelawney is a young Royalist who disguises himself as a Roundhead to run errands and pass messages in the interests of Charles II. He comes along as Lark is being accosted by a Puritan man after singing a Cavalier song on the road. James takes her for a child, for she looks much younger than her thirteen years. After tossing the Puritan into the river, he reluctantly agrees to take her north, but only because she seems to be too young to leave on her own and she won’t tell him who she is. The two of them have adventures involving intrigue, capture, travels with gypsies, and other exciting incidents.

When I reread a children’s or young adult book, I try to evaluate how interesing it is for both the adult and the intended audience. I don’t think Lark has as much to offer an adult as some of the old classics I’ve reread recently, such as The Secret Garden or Anne of Green Gables. However, I did enjoy it as a bit of light reading. It is written for girls around ten to thirteen or fourteen years old. Although I loved it as a sixteen-year-old, older teens today may be a bit too sophisticated for it. I’m not sure. Still, it has plenty to recommend it, a good background in the history and a pleasant way of presenting it—through James’ confusion about his own loyalties—adventure, humor, and light romance. It is much more innocent than many of today’s books for teens, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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