CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 37 . . . . June 2, 2017
Two Times a Traitor is a coming-of-age novel about a boy who inadvertently time-travels back to 1745 where he finds himself in a war. He also finds a father-figure and grows as a person.
Twelve-year-old Laz Belanger of Boston is reluctantly on holiday in Halifax with his sister, mother and domineering father. Laz would prefer to be with a friend at a parkour camp where one learns how to run obstacles in a city environment. (As it turns out, he gets experience along these lines in his adventure.)
Laz's father insists that he accompany the family to the Citadel, a historic site with significance for his family. One of his ancestors, Ebenezer Wright, came from New England as a Loyalist to defend this Halifax fortress during the American Revolution. Also important to Laz is his grandmother's Acadian heritage.
After quarrelling with his father, Laz goes exploring on his own. Wandering through a tunnel, he trips, falls, blacks out and awakens outside the walls. Approaching the shore, he sees bonfires and men. One man, dressed up like a character from Pirates of the Caribbean, sees him and exclaims, "What is this?"
Although Laz doesn't yet realize it, he has fallen through a worm-hole back to 1745. The men at the shore are colonial militia from New England, forced ashore by a storm, but heading to the French fort of Louisbourg to capture it for King George II. In 1744, France and Britain went to war, and their colonies were caught up in the conflict.
Humour blends with tension when Laz is taken to Captain Elijah Hawkins of Portsmouth, "a loyal subject to King George II of England". Laz mistakes Hawkins' sword for a toy one, thinking he's in a living history presentation, but he finds out when he grabs it that it's real. Hawkins considers Laz "strangely attired", won't let him keep his "small clothes" (underwear) when he makes Laz put on knee breeches and stockings, and pulls off his St. Christopher medal, calling it "papist witchery". Doubting Laz's sanity and suspecting he is a French spy because of his fluency in French, the captain decides that "fetters" will be necessary. Laz thinks he said "fritters" and brightens at the notion that he will be given something to eat, only to find that "fetters" are leg-irons.
Laz realizes that he has been whisked back in time and vows to return to 2017. He makes friends with the captain's apprentice, Ben, a boy his own age, who is later revealed to be a link between past and present. In a mast-climbing competition, he stirs the ire of a man named Cooper, the villain of the novel and a threat to Laz throughout the story. When Hawkins wants Laz to go into Louisbourg, win the confidence of the French, then undermine morale and commit acts of sabotage, Laz must comply.
The plot of Two Times a Traitor is carefully woven and tension-filled. In Louisbourg, Laz convinces the French that he is a farmer's son sent by his father to warn them of the fleet waiting to storm the fortress. He finds the French warmer and kindlier than the New Englanders who come across as crude and bigoted.
In Louisbourg, Laz becomes a messenger for the man who becomes his father figure, Morpain. Commander Pierre Morpain was a real person, a privateer commissioned by King Louis of France to raid the New England coast and the de facto leader of the defence of Louisbourg. Author Karen Bass mentions in her historical note that Morpain's "tireless courage was feted in the victory lore of the New Englanders." The colonials were proud to have taken the great fortress of Louisbourg; their new self-confidence, writes Bass, contributed to their uprising against Britain in 1776. In 1748, much to the New Englanders' disgust, Louisbourg was handed back to the French in a peace settlement. Morpain was appointed commander of Louisbourg but died in France before he could take up his post.
Richness of detail, the result of the author's careful research, helps the reader suspend disbelief and be caught up in the story. Bass does not provide maps, however, nor mention the works she consulted. One book that might interest readers wanting to follow up on the novel is Fortress of Louisbourg by John Fortier and Owen Fitzgerald, (Toronto, Oxford U. Press, 1979).
Young readers will identify with likeable Laz and will enjoy the drama and fast pace of Two Times a Traitor.
Ruth Latta is an author in Ottawa, ON. Visit http://ruthlatta.blogspot.com for more information on Ruth Latta's novel, Grace and the Secret Vault.
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