King's Arrow & Rebel's Keep
King's Arrowand Rebel's Keep, Douglas Bond
Vol. 2 & 3 in the Crown and Covenant Series
(P&R, 2003/2004), pb., 215 pp./ 275pp.
I have been meaning to write separate reviews of these books but time is passing so I decided to address them together. We completed vol 3 just before Christmas, and I must say that after the Chronicles of Narnia this is the best series we have read. We accidentally left it behind as we left for oru Christmas travels. We called a friend and she met us along an later part of our travels to get us the book so we could keep reading it! My wife, who is typically caring for our 8 month old daughter as I am reading to the boys, has begun reading the series for herself after hearing just a portion and being captivated by it. We read the final pages of Rebel’s Keep on the road and she teared up significantly. I can’t say enough good things about these books.
I might add some clarifications though. One friend commented that the books were hard to read aloud. They are very well written and much easier to follow that many other books we have read. I think he was referring, however, to the use of some Scottish words/pronunciation. I think I did not think to mention this previously because we became accustomed to some of what is in the book while living in Scotland. There is a glossary in the back of the book which is helpful although not every potentially confusing word is explained there. An important word to understand is “ken” which means “know.” Also “Och” and “Och, aye” occur frequently. They mean almost nothing really, something like “well” in American speech. There will be place for some stumbling with some of these words but perseverance wil pay off richly. I now hear my boys from time to time playing saying “I donnae ken” (“I don’t know”).
Secondly, these books are aimed at older kids- the cover suggests ages 10-14. I think these 2 volumes are a bit tougher than Duncan’s War. They are not profane or illicit in anyway. They simply deal straightforwardly with the suffering and death inflicted upon the Covenanters. My 6 and 8 year old boys appreciated it just as much as my 10 year old boy, but you will need to consider when your own children are ready for this. It is not gratuitous, but it is gritty.
These books have real substance, a compelling, adventurous plot, good theology, thoroughgoing worldview and are written so well. Rarely do all these elements come together so strongly it seems to me.
Lastly, I should say something about the specific contents of these volumes (!). King’s Arrow begins 13 years after the final events of Duncan’s War. By this time Angus has grown to be a young man who has continued his childhood interest in the bow. He has become a skillful archer and that plays a prominent role in the books. This book concludes with the (historical) battle at Drumclog. Rebel’s Keep then picks up in the same year. In Rebel’s Keep Malcolm, Duncan’s son takes on more of a role as well. Each of the three books concludes with a historical battle. The final volume resolves the issue of the M’Kethe family’s situation, but I’ll not spoil it by saying more.
Lastly, one other great element of the book is how naturally historical people and events are interwoven. My boys often said, “Whoa! So you mean he was a real person!” A list is given in the back of the names who were real people. This, along with the manner of writing, sets these books above the books we enjoyed about the Huguenots and the battle for independence in the Netherlands.