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Monday, October 09, 2006


Victory, written by Susan Cooper, is both a time/place travel and a historical fiction title. The story takes place, alternately, during the time just before the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) and in both the United States and England during 2006. The stories of both Sam, an eleven year old boy pressed into the English Navy, and Molly, an English girl who has moved with her mother and step-family to the United States, are linked by a mystery concerning an old book and an artifact. The artifact is a scrap of the flag that covered the coffin of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson who died a hero's death at the Battle of Trafalgar on his flagship, HMS Victory.

Both children must, in their own times, go through unwanted life changes and challenges. There is a connection made when Molly purchases a book from an old book store at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. She begins to hear, see, and dream things that she can not explain. She "sees"a tall masted ship on the horizon - nobody else can see. Molly seems to hear a "voice" in her head, telling her to keep the scrap of fabric she finds in the book about Admiral Nelson secret.

The move to the United States has been difficult for Molly. She has left all she knows in England. Her step-father and step-brother are Americans, and her step-father has been transferred back to the U.S. by his job. As Molly melts down from homesickness, and from whatever is haunting her, she and her mother take her new baby brother to England to visit her grandparents.

In Sam's story he has been "pressed" into service in the Royal Navy. He goes through many trials as he becomes a seaman - from developing his sea legs to being punished cruelly with a block of metal placed in his mouth for days - preventing him to eat, drink, or talk - after speaking up to a cruel midshipman who has tripped him as Sam carried eggs for the Captain. But the most difficult is the Battle of Trafalgar.

It is this famous sea battle - Trafalgar - that becomes the crises point for Molly and Sam. But more than this connects them, or causes their connection through time. This mystery, when solved, brings a peace to each of them.

Susan Cooper continues to be a favorite author. This book, Victory, enthralls the reader as the books of her "Dark is Rising" series did some years ago. I highly recommend Victory, even to those readers who are not yet aware of the history of the Battle of Trafalgar

Children's and young adult literature is sometimes a chore for adults and more mature young readers to move through, but I really liked this book. Author Susan Cooper does a great job writing an authentic story of the life that young boys sometimes endured when they were, essentially, kidnapped by the English Navy and forced to serve for indefinite periods of time aboard warships. She also captures the sense of desolation that children can feel when they are, also unwillingly, uprooted from all that is familiar to them.

I truly cared about these characters--especially Sam, who is unwillingly pressed (forced) into British naval service but comes to love his life even as he respects one of England's greatest naval heroes, Admiral Lord Nelson. Molly's unwillingness to accept the changes in her life sometimes come off as her being "snotty," but she is only 11 and likely unaware that change can mean adventure--which she finds to be amazingly true. I even felt for the family that Sam leaves behind--the family that in a very real sense, he never really knows again.

Susan Cooper is a gifted writer and neatly captures the "haunting" that begins to define Molly's life after she purchases the book. Although some readers may interpret what is happening as "time travel," this isn't a tale of science fiction. Neither Molly nor Sam actually travel through time but are somehow connected by the piece of Nelson's flag that Molly discovers, and Molly (at least) begins to literally sense that connection with her eyes, ears, sense of smell, and more.

Younger or less sophisticated readers may have difficulty at times with the language, naval jargon, and storyline, but Cooper does a good job, and it becomes easier as it goes on. Some readers may be initially confused by the writer's decision to tell Sam's story in past tense and Molly's in present, but I think it works very well in capturing the sense of distance--both in time and space-- between the children.

I confess that I was a bit disconcerted by an action Molly takes near the end of the story--an action that I don't think she should have been allowed to take (sometimes book/movie characters do things that in real life would be unlikely), but it is true to the character, I think.

If readers like stories that truly take them out of themselves, if they like stories about the sea, of England, of military experience, then Victory will be a great read!
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