Erskine uses the strife of medieval England as a backdrop to
explore differences, puberty and the divided loyalties of war.
Narrator Adrian, almost 13, dreams of being an archer and an apprentice to his father, a master bowyer. However, his sickliness and pallor (he suffers from albinism) are too great for his kind but overprotective father to see beyond. While his friend Hugh is preparing to battle the “pagan Scots,” Adrian is scribing recipes, fighting Bessie the ox (oddly, a female) and dodging the barbs of his inaptly named Good Aunt. He brandishes his own slightly bitter wit with droll chapter headings such as “In Which I Write Recipes While Hugh Handles Bessie (and Bess).” Adrian—called Badger for the dirt he smears under his eyes to improve his weak eyesight—sets out to find Hugh and prove himself in battle. His journey into Scotland yields such historical tidbits as the existence of spectacles and the Romans’ invention of flushing latrines, which keep the past relevant. Adrian, too, is a typical boy who plays pranks and swears, though exclamations like “Ockham’s razor!” lose their novelty after a few too many repetitions. War is also a constant, and Adrian matures quickly upon witnessing its horrors and unexpected kindnesses.
The moral is common, but the unusual setting highlights the message that people aren’t so different from one another; fans of Karen Cushman will enjoy this. (glossary, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-13)