Duncan’s War, by Douglas Bond (Crown and Covenant #1). P&R Publishing, 2002. 270 pages.
Reading Level: Middle Grades, 10-12
Recommended for: ages 10-12 and up
Bottom Line: Duncan’s War, first in the Crown and Covenant Series, introduces middle-graders to a little-known chapter of Scottish and Reformation history.
Duncan M’Kethe, age 14, shepherds his family’s flock on the hillside pastures near the River Ken. History looms over him much like the crumbling tower of the ruins of Castle Dunfarg—tales of the treacherous English and their Scottish-born King James, denying freedom to the lowland Covenanters to worship as they please. Periods of persecution and violence have alternated with lulls of relative calm, but Duncan is hearing rumors that the wrath of the English is about to fall again. It’s been years since the M’Kethe family has attended worship in the local kirk or sat under the blasphemous preaching of its drunken rector—to do so would require swearing loyalty to the present king’s wayward Anglican church. Instead they worship at home or, when a faithful itinerant preacher is in the neighborhood, in the open fields with other like-minded families. Word is that a turncoat is scouring the neighborhood, levying fines for non-attendance at church and perhaps waiting to pounce on an open-air meeting. Trouble comes as expected, and the faith of each member of the M’Kethe family will be tested by fire–especially Duncan’s. He joins his father and other heads of households on a march to raise an army against the English and their sympathizers. All they want is freedom of conscience, but that goal will come to seem very remote, even when their enemy is delivered into their hands.
Douglas Bond made at least three trips to Scotland before writing the first volume of the Crown and Covenant series, and the research shows; accurate down to the mutton broth and oatcake on the family table. The moral choices of a family under great stress also shows. Duncan has two clear role models in his father and an elderly neighbor: will he cultivate stubborn defiance, like his neighbor, or take his father’s way of love and forgiveness? One difficulty with novels based on complex historical events is the “information overload” in early chapters that slow the story down. That may be a problem with the Crown and Covenant books, especially for younger readers. But as an introduction to the times and the issues, Duncan’s War and the follow-up titles, King’s Arrow and Rebel’s Keep, are a good way to make history go down easy. Study guides area available from the author.
Overall rating: 4 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 5
- Artistic value: 3.5