Set in the Ireland of 1607, this is an exciting old-fashioned adventure story. Hugh O’Neill would be a big prize for the English army to arrest and take to the Tower of London, but he is sheltered by many of the Irish families, amongst whom are the de Cashels. Their son James, believes he is of Norman descent and therefore against O’Neill, but his loyalties change when Sir Arthur Chichester fines the family and O’Neill hundreds of head of cattle. Their castle home is then attacked by Lieutenant Bonman and Hugh O’Neill has to make a hasty escape. But O’Neill’s son, Con, a wayward lad, is off on adventures of his own. Con would also make a prize worth capturing and James and his sister, Sinead, and a kinsman of the O’Neill’s, Fion, assisted by the Haystack, a poet, set out to find Con and deliver him to the ship waiting off shore to whisk them off to France.
Con at seven does seem a little young for the role he plays, but the other children are convincing, particularly James whose divided loyalties are put to the test. The episode where the children’s parents are burnt to death in their castle is a little unreal, one would have thought a bit more emotion would have been shed, but in the main this story rings true, and the excitement of the chase moves the reader swiftly on. The complicated historical background is sketched in as the reader progresses but does not impede the story and there are useful historical notes at the end, and joy of joys there is a map! This shows the children’s journey and also the route taken by Hugh O’Neill himself. So many historical novels involve a journey and a map is essential to the reader’s understanding of the plot.