Author of a number of very fine historical novels for children, Nicola Pierce here continues the story that began in Behind the Walls, set during the siege of Derry, and follows three young soldiers in the days leading up to the Battle of the Boyne. Once again the storytelling is taut and compelling and reveals without overstatement how all great historical events are composed of and shaped by the actions and experiences of those caught up in them, from king to foot soldier.
The book opens with a heart-rending scene that sets the tone for what follows. Gerald O’Connor, a young teenager from Offaly, and one of those fighting for King James, is forced to watch the execution of two young people caught with lime (for poisoning the Jacobites’ water supply). Unable to stop it, Gerald is deeply affected by the shocking, seemingly arbitrary events, as the two teenagers, barely more than children, die horrible deaths in the midst of the beauty of the Irish countryside. On the opposing side to Gerald, brothers Robert and Daniel Sherrard, who played leading parts in Behind the Walls, also have their lives changed for ever, the excitement they feel at being part of a great movement gradually turning to disillusionment.
The tactics of the battle are clearly described (though without any whiff of textbook) as is the horror of hand to hand fighting. The awfulness of battle feels more terrible because of the space in the book given to lighter moments and for drama that has nothing to do with war; we are always conscious too of the ordinary home lives going on as they always have and not far from the battlefield at all.
As well as the main teen protagonists, Pierce allows readers to see much of the action through the eyes of the kings at the head of the armies, James and William. Both are worried about their families, are shown to be struggling under the weight of responsibility, and are convincing and even sympathetic figures. We are aware too of the machinations of a third king, Louis XIV, and led to see that the deaths of so many in Ireland were part of a power struggle based many hundreds of miles away, to do with places none of them would ever visit.
Pierce draws together her characters’ stories, the real-life and the fictional, with great skill, and presents a vivid picture of this important slice of history, with compassion for all involved, and in ways that will be catch the imagination of readers of all ages.