The King’s Swift Rider: A Novel on Robert the Bruce by Mollie Hunter

The King's Swift Rider: A Novel on Robert the Bruce

Harper Trophy, 1998

In 14th-century Scotland, sixteen-year-old Martin Crawford spies Robert the Bruce being hunted by the English. That day marks the start of Crawford’s involvement in the fight for Scottish independence from the English, but he’s not a warrior. Martin’s wish is to be a cleric, and his involvement is as an observer, spy, and message bearer for the king. His mobility allows him to be privy to the king’s strategic decisions as well as see the battles from a distance.

The King’s Swift Rider provides a good background to long-ago events. Though this account is strongly biased toward the Scots, I enjoyed learning more about this period in history and about the famous British and Scottish leaders involved. The contrast in attitudes between Martin, a pacifist who is nonetheless deeply, and nonviolently, involved in the war, and his brother, a sometimes blood-crazed warrior, deepened the interest in the story for me. This is not a story that either glorifies or wholly condemns war or violence.

This book will appeal to readers who enjoy action, history, and books about war and strategy. The details about medieval life will appeal to fantasy enthusiasts as well as Live Action Role Players (LARP). The main character is sixteen, but I think this book will appeal to upper middle grade readers as well as young adult readers.

I checked this book out of my local library.

In the Keep of Time by Margaret J. Anderson

In the Keep of Time

Scholastic Books, 1977.

I spend most of my reading time these days reading just published or soon-to -be published books. Recently, however, I went back to this favorite from my childhood. I remembered the basic premise of the book, though not the details and wondered if I’d still like it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading In the Keep of Time again, and it didn’t feel dated or too slow to develop as older books can.

It’s a familiar set up; four siblings, two boys and two girls find themselves in Scotland for the summer with a relative they don’t really know who will take care of them while their parents are away. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the children begin in the English countryside and are transported to Narnia. In Swallows and Amazons, The Penderwicks, and The Boxcar Children, the children are this side of the pond and manage to have adventures simply by being left on their own in the real world. In the Keep of Time, as the title suggests, an ancient castle and a magical key transport the children back in time to the 15th century. Immediately there’s trouble, not only are the children out of their proper time, but the youngest, Ollie, seems to have had her body and mind meshed with a little girl from that long-ago time. Now they’ve got to figure out how to extricate Ollie and also travel back to their own century.

Readers who enjoy history will enjoy this book. The scenes vividly depict the way of life for the Scots in the 15th century, and the children get caught up in a time of raids and battles between the Scots and the English. There’s also a good bit of tension involved when it comes to the question of whether or not they’ll be able to make it back to their own time.

I figured this book would long be out of print, and it is. But there are used copies to be had online. It is also available in Kindle format, as is one of the two sequels, In the Circle of Time. I found the second sequel, Mists of Time, which is not available on Kindle, in my library network. I’ve never read the other books, but now that I’ve reread In the Keep of Time, I may well seek them out.

The Tartan Magic Series by Jane Yolen

Book 1: The Wizard’s Map, Harcourt, 1999.

Book 2: The Pictish Child, Harcourt, 1999.

Book 3: The Bagpiper’s Ghost, Harcourt 2002.

When Jennifer, her twin brother Peter, and their family go to Scotland to visit their grandparents they know they’re in for sightseeing and adventure, but magic? They never would have guessed at that. Magic, it seems, is wrapped up in the very fabric of the Scottish town they visit, and Jennifer has a way of bringing it out. In each book Jennifer and Peter encounter a different type of magic: an evil wizard who’s been bound within a map, an ancient child wrapped up in the history of an ancient battle, and ghost, a lady in white who’s searching for her lost love. The magic is as exciting as it is scary and can be raised simply by going for a walk or by playing a game of cards. And the talking animals? It’s anyone’s guess as to whether they’re a help or a hindrance.

These books are the absolute best sort of summer reading. Jennifer and Peter are on an adventure with their family, but their parents conveniently disappear for most of the important bits of the story, leaving the twins to solve their problems on their own. They’ve got a magical advisor in Gram, as she’s a witch, and a little sister to care for, which adds to the tension. There’s just the right amount of information about Scotland and its history to pique your interest and loads of new vocabulary to try (with a glossary in case you can’t quite sort it out from context). Best of all, there are three books in the series, so you’re not disappointed by being finished reading when you’re just getting to know the characters.

These books brought to mind the books of Edward Eager and E. Nesbit. They have the same sort of feeling of adventure, and the children have the same responsibility to set things right. They are more playful and less dark and involved than Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, but something of Jennifer and Peter’s relationship with Gram and their parents brought to my mind Uncle Merry and the characters in Over Sea Under Stone. In fact, Tartan Magic might be a good series to lead up to these others. Though the Scottish words raise the reading level of the text, these middle grade books are short (about 150 pages) and so would be good for reluctant readers or those who might be overwhelmed by a large book. These are great for middle grade summer reading or to add to the stack when the school year starts and 20 minutes of reading a day rules prevail.