Monday, August 05, 2013

Book Review: The Red Keep by Allen French

Here is a review I wrote in 2007 but for some reason, it never made it onto the blog. Having recommended this book to dozens of people since then who have reported back that the recommendation was a worthy one, I hereby present this review so that even more folks may enjoy this excellent book.

The cover art for this book always intrigued me, so at last I decided to pick it up and read it. I was not disappointed. The Red Keep is the story of the petty nobility of 12th century Burgundy that effortlessly places young readers within a historical setting much different from their own. With the political system of the province in a state of flux thanks to the minority of the Duke, one family, the Sauval, amasses power and wealth by robbing travelers and raiding neighboring baronies. The Red Keep is the stronghold of one such barony. It is raided by the Sauval and the Baron is put to the sword--only his daughter, Anne, is rescued by the noble Baron Roger and his men, among them a young page named Conan. In the aftermath of the attack, the damaged keep is left abandoned--the bone of contention around which the story revolves.

The main character, Conan, is immediately sympathetic. He is strong, brave, and chivalrous to a fault, but young man that he is, he makes occasional bone-headed decisions that nearly cost him his life. As the story progresses, Conan's youthful naivete transforms into savvy adulthood as he carefully plans a strategy to thwart the Sauval.

The character of Anne is also appealing. Though she is presented in fighting trim throughout the book, she is not given unrealistic strength or the ability to strike down fighting men twice her size--a common but ludicrous feature of much modern literature. Anne's true strength lies in her courage, her determination to regain her father's fief and her willingness to step outside of the expected female role, even in the face of difficult odds, for the sake of justice. In this, I thought she resembled St. Joan of Arc.

Overall, I loved The Red Keep. The main characters were good and solid, and the antagonists were suitably detestable. The story itself and the writing are also first rate. Add to this the great black and white illustrations by Andrew Wyeth throughout, and you've got a real winner of a book, perfectly suited for kids 10 and up, but easily read and enjoyed by adults as well.

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