In 1697, two 12-year-old boys—one French, one English—ship out to Hudson Bay in this YA novel based on historical events.
Centering on the struggle to control York Factory on Hudson Bay, this novel offers adventure on both sea and land. In the late 1600s, the rivalry between France and England over Canada and the lucrative fur trade grew heated. David Goodchild is a London boy who speaks French due to Huguenot parents (the original family name was Bonenfant); Guillaume Bisaillon has grown up in Périgny, a shipbuilding region in France. They become cabin boys, David aboard the Royal Hudson’s Bay, an armed merchant vessel, and Guillaume on Le Pélican, a 54-cannon French warship. Both vessels head for Hudson Bay to protect their country’s fur trade and strategic interests. Along the way, both boys learn about life on a ship, with its hazards, hardships and array of salty characters. They learn how to tie knots, reef a sail and work as powder monkeys. They experience freezing cold, mortal danger, a cannon battle at sea and a few games of chess. Perhaps most of all, both David and Guillaume come to consider how destruction of life, natural resources and money happens in war—a welcome corrective to the kind of sea story that focuses only on the excitement of battle. “We both seemed to realize that in chess, war had been reduced to a game where no one got hurt,” concludes Guillaume. The writing is somewhat rough, however; usage and punctuation could use a polish, and word choices, especially in dialogue, waver between old-fashioned and modern. Milligan (Australian hospital ship Centaur, 1993) and Smith (Educating for a Peaceful Future, 1998) also include black-and-white illustrations, historical notes, and translations of French and Mohawk, which will appeal to inquisitive young readers.
Well-researched, exciting and thoughtful about the real losses of war.