________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 11 . . . . January 23, 2009

cover The Battle for Duncragglin.

Andrew H. Vanderwal.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2009.
310 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-886-6.

Subject Headings:
Wallace, William, d. 1305-Juvenile fiction.
Scotland-History-Wallace’s Rising, 1297-1304-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

*** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected Proofs.


It was tempting. What if that noise came from a dying soldier? Should he shoot him to put him out of his misery? But what if the bolt didn't kill him and only made matters worse? What if it was Malcolm ... or William Wallace?

Alex had no idea what to do, but he knew he had to do something. He couldn't leave and not know what made the noise. Peering down the crossbow shaft, finger on the trigger, he crept forward.

Sweat beaded on Alex's forehead and the collapsed lean-to slipped in and out of focus at the end of his cocked crossbow. He decided against a direct approach as he wouldn't be able to see what lay behind the lean-to until he was almost upon it. It was better to make a wide circle around to the other side.

Placing each foot carefully, Alex tiptoed from tree to tree, thankful for the chattering sparrows. Several dead soldiers lay in his way, sprawled facedown in the dirt. Arrows protruded grotesquely from their bodies. He gave them a wide berth.

When Alex Macpherson leaves for Scotland for his summer holidays, he has no idea of what is in store for him. Since his aunt Fiona is ill, the McRae family welcomes him to their home, and Alex soon makes friends with Annie, Willie and Craig. The family farm is near the ruins of a castle, and before long the children decide to explore in order to determine if the local folktales about castle ghosts and strange happenings are true.

     When they enter a coastal cave at the edge of the farm, the friends abruptly find themselves transported to an entirely different era. Within hours, they are in the midst of William Wallace's military campaign at the end of the 11th century, and they must quickly learn how to survive and how to determine who is friend or foe.

     This first novel by Andrew H. Vanderwal is filled with adventure and many scenes of intrigue and fighting as the battle for Duncragglin Castle takes place. Swords flash, crossbows whir and various plots and schemes are used to breach security and overtake the castle. Every page adds to the excitement and tension of the children's adventure.

     Fantasy novels are typically plot-driven, and this one is no exception. There is a large cast of characters, but few are truly described in detail. The settings of Scotland and the castle are also painted with large brush strokes. The emphasis is on action and adventure.

     The novel will certainly appeal to its intended audience of tweens or young teens. In fact, it seems very much like a video game. Alex is suddenly thrust back in time, but rather than being hindered by his 21st-century self, he immediately finds hidden attributes and powers. Given the need to foil the enemy, Alex can suddenly make a fire from nothing, can use a crossbow effectively, can understand the intricacies of espionage, war and battle. He has become a master in his new world. Gamers will accept, understand and enthusiastically respond.

     Despite what it may lack in depth, The Battle for Duncragglin is a good adventure/fantasy/historical novel which will have appeal for both boys and girls. Because the ending leaves several unanswered questions, perhaps a sequel is already brewing in Vanderwal's mind.


Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON, where she has turned her love of travel into a second career as a travel consultant.

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