Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review: John Treegate's Musket

My generation may have been the last one that was trained to honor and respect the Founding Fathers of the American republic without the filmy taint of political correctness. The generation after mine had to suffer through weak pablum of the Liberty Kids variety. For more recent generations, the Founders are often portrayed as amalgams of all of their flaws with none of their virtues highlighted--that is, when they are discussed at all. Yes, the Founders were men of their times. Many of them were slave holders. More than a few were fairly vicious anti-Papists. But that doesn't change the fact that they accomplished an amazing thing: they risked their necks rebelling against the most powerful nation on earth and won the righteous fight for self-rule against impossible odds, all under the idea that men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It's no mean feat to be able to write a story about a period of history that's been done to death and make it fresh. In John Treegate's Musket, author Leonard Wibberley (better known for his best-seller The Mouse that Roared) recreates the heady days prior to the American Revolution, telling the tale through the eyes of a boy named Peter Treegate. Peter is the son of an important Boston merchant, John Treegate, who fought for the Crown at the climactic battle of the Plains of Abraham. Apprenticed to a cooper, Peter sees the hardships of Boston's merchants and manufacturers first hand. He is also exposed to the hazing and beatings of the older boys. Framed for a murder, Peter flees Boston on a smuggler's brig and embarks on an adventure that will eventually find him at the top of Breeds Hill near Boston a few years later.

Originally written in 1959, John Treegate's Musket is an engaging tale packed with colorful, memorable characters. I particularly liked the Maclaren of Spey--a tough dispossessed Scottish lord living on the Carolina frontier. This conflicted character is occasionally heroic, but is also presented as a relic to a time of brutal wars of succession and endless blood-feuds. Wibberley also incorporates several of the Founding Fathers into the tale, Sam Adams and Paul Revere among them, and puts Peter at the center of the Boston Massacre. I appreciated Wibberley's frank and honest portrayal of the times. He is not overly critical of the Loyalists, and his description of reciprocal raids by Indians and frontiersmen shows the harsh reality of frontier life without assigning victim status to either side.

John Treegate's Musket it the first in a four-book series, the other three being Peter Treegate's War, Sea Captain from Salem, and Treegate's Raiders (newly released). The series makes a great companion to a study of the Revolutionary War era and could also serve as an introduction to this period. The books are marked for ages 14 and up, but I think a 12 year old could easily handle them in terms of reading level and content.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Cross Among the Tomahawks

Saint Jean de Brebeuf--also known as Echon--is one of my all-time favorite saints. A towering, masculine figure, he was also a world-class linguist of his time as well as a man of incredible courage and sanctity. So when I received this little book, I was psyched. I was also a little nervous--would a fictional account for younger readers do justice to this amazing model of Christian manhood?

I needn’t have feared. Cross Among the Tomahawks is a well-written and engrossing tale of the period of first contact between the pagan Indian tribes of the Saint Lawrence valley and the Christian French missionaries. Centering on the life of a young Huron named Tsiko, the tale is fast-moving and engaging. Having studied the Jesuit Relations of the Canadian missions in great detail, I can confirm that the history is accurate, making this a great introduction for young readers to the era of exploration and the early missions. The lives and deaths of many of the Jesuit martyrs are described, and the author does not shy away from an account of the awful, though triumphant martyrdom of Brebeuf, sparing little detail.

My criticisms of this book are both very minor: I thought the dialog could have been more artfully executed. One of the most delightful things about the Jesuit Relations are the conversations the Jesuits record between themselves and the Indians. Lomask seems to have missed some of this. Also, I found Lomask’s portrayal of Charles Huault de Montmagny to be unnecessarily critical. “Great Mountain” was a much more impressive historical figure than Lomask presents. For a brief record of his life and acts while governor of New France, see this article in Catholic Men's Quarterly:

Behold the Militant Catholic Man...Charles Huault de Montmagny: Onontio

But these faults aside, this book is fantastic introduction to early colonial history and a fine account of the exemplary life and death of Jean de Brebeuf--a saint for all the ages.